SER­GACHEV HAS MUCH TO LEARN DE­SPITE FAST START TO NHL CA­REER

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS mtraikos@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/Michael_Traikos

The rookie was smil­ing. Un­der the cir­cum­stances, it was a strange sight.

Af­ter a Calder Tro­phy-wor­thy start to the sea­son when he notched eight goals and 24 points in the first 38 games, Mikhail Ser­gachev of the Tampa Bay Light­ning has been strug­gling to keep his head above wa­ter.

Head­ing into Mon­day night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had gone 21 straight games with­out a goal, is a mi­nus-8 since Jan. 1 and re­cently spent a cou­ple nights sit­ting in the press box.

At the mo­ment, the for­mer Wind­sor Spit­fires de­fence­man has no rea­son to be happy. Then again, it’s hard to sulk when you’re play­ing on the best team in the NHL.

Traded from the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens for for­ward Jonathan Drouin last sum­mer, the ninthover­all pick in 2016 has no hard feel­ings to­ward his for­mer team, which hap­pens to pos­sess the third-worst record in the Eastern Con­fer­ence. Ser­gachev said he’s not try­ing to prove the Cana­di­ens wrong for giv­ing up on him. He be­lieves the or­ga­ni­za­tion was right in mov­ing him, even if there might be some doubters.

“They’ve got a great group of D,” Ser­gachev said of the Cana­di­ens.

“They’ve got (Shea) We­ber back and Jeff Petry has stepped up and he’s play­ing well. Vic­tor Mete is a high-end player. Their team was kind of strug­gling and they couldn’t find a way to win and they were look­ing for that guy, look­ing for some­one (like Drouin) to give them life. It’s all busi­ness. That’s all I can say. I’m pretty sure Drouin was happy, too, be­cause he’s an im­por­tant player on that team.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to rate Ser­gachev’s im­por­tance to the Light­ning, if only be­cause the team has so many weapons at its dis­posal. Nikita Kucherov, who led the league in scor­ing head­ing into Mon­day night’s ac­tion, and Steven Stamkos (tied for fourth) are equally de­serv­ing of the Hart Tro­phy. De­fence­man Vic­tor Hed­man was named the mid-sea­son front-run­ner for the Nor­ris Tro­phy by the Pro­fes­sional Hockey Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, and goalie An­drei Vasilevskiy is the early favourite for the Vez­ina Tro­phy.

Then there’s Ser­gachev, who is sec­ond among rookie de­fence­men in scor­ing, though 24 of his 29 points came in the first three months of the sea­son.

“I haven’t ac­com­plished any­thing yet,” Ser­gachev said. “Ev­ery­body wants to win a Cup so I want to win a Cup. That’s the big­gest ac­com­plish­ment.”

Ser­gachev isn’t likely to beat out Van­cou­ver’s Brock Boeser or Mathew Barzal of the New York Is­lan­ders for the Calder Tro­phy. He might not even be a fi­nal­ist. But con­sid­er­ing he has the same num­ber of goals as Drouin with eight and one more point than the 22-year-old Mon­treal for­ward, he has pro­vided Habs fans with more than enough am­mu­ni­tion to lob at Cana­di­ens GM Marc Bergevin and his ques­tion­able trade his­tory.

“Def­i­nitely a very tal­ented player of­fen­sively,” Light­ning de­fence­man An­ton Stral­man said of Ser­gachev.

Hed­man said: “The way he moves and the way he can shift an­gles, (Ot­tawa’s) Erik (Karls­son) moves kind of the same way on the blue-line. He’s ob­vi­ously a big­ger body, but he moves re­ally good out there. If he keeps de­vel­op­ing, keeps get­ting bet­ter, he’s go­ing to be re­ally good for us.”

That be­ing said, it’s been an up and down year for Ser­gachev, who is still learn­ing how to con­trol his emo­tions when things aren’t go­ing his way.

Less than a month ago, the 19-year-old took a high-stick­ing penalty in a close game against the Chicago Black­hawks. He be­lieved it was a bad call. And he let the ref­eree know it. Ser­gachev shouted and swore and, af­ter toss­ing a towel in the penalty box, was given an­other two min­utes for un­sports­man­like con­duct.

Af­ter the con­test, head coach Jon Cooper levied more pun­ish­ment by mak­ing Ser­gachev a healthy scratch for two games.

“He’s still learn­ing,” said Cooper, point­ing out Ser­gachev is only a teenager. “Has he got him­self in trou­ble emo­tion­ally some­times, got caught up in the game? He has. But I can say that about a lot of guys on our team. He just did it at a tough mo­ment in the game. This sea­son is all about a learn­ing curve.”

What did Ser­gachev learn while watch­ing games from up in the press box? Even the best play­ers make mis­takes. Not that you’d know it.

“Some­times they don’t play well, but they don’t get pissed,” he said. “Maybe they do, but they don’t show that emo­tion. When you show ev­ery­body that you’re pissed, ev­ery­body is go­ing to know it and the guys on the other team are go­ing to make you pay and you’re go­ing to take a penalty, like I did in Chicago. You can’t get frus­trated in this league.”

Says the guy whose team has won the most games in the league.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Maple Leafs for­ward Wil­liam Ny­lan­der cel­e­brates one of his two goals Mon­day in a win over Tampa Bay in Toronto.

VERON­ICA HENRI/POST­MEDIA

Light­ning de­fence­man Mikhail Ser­gachev has Leo Ko­marov cov­ered dur­ing Mon­day night’s game in Toronto.

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