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Canadian draft pick Sergachev now flourishing for Lightning


Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is turning into the kind of player any Stanley Cup contender could use

Tampa, Fla. – Mikhail Sergachev wore the Montreal Canadiens jersey when he picked them up with the ninth pick in the 2016 draft, then wore one just four times in a game before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This was not enough time for Sergachev to imagine lifting the Stanley Cup with Montreal’s iconic “CH” logo on his chest.

“I was still very young, but it was great to be drafted,” the 23-year-old Russian recalled. “My parents were happy. I was happy. And doing business: Obviously doing business here was great.”

After four years of trading, Sergachev is trying to go back to back with the Lightning to beat the team that picked him up and send him packing. The injured defenseman, known for his offensive skills, has added some snares, physicality and sacrifices to his game to become a complete player.

“He wants to work as a 200-foot, all-around defender, and he’s definitely coming into his own,” said veteran teammate Ryan McDonagh. “What I love about him is his desire to be better in all areas and taking great pride in being tough to play against: being physical, blocking shots, just being too proud and taking the puck with his net. keeping out. .”

Sergachev only has three assists in 19 games after this season, but he is doing a lot of other important things needed to win this stage of the playoffs. He blocked two shots in the dwindling minutes of Game 7 of the semifinal against the New York Islanders and was huffing and puffing on the bench after being on the ice for 2:25—more than twice the longest average innings in the NHL. .

“All that mattered (is) to me is that we won,” said Sergachev. “I’m trying to be in the right place at all times — not run out of a position so I can block a shot or stay in a lane or have a good stick. Obviously my level of competition is high.”

Lightning coach John Cooper recalls that Sergachev had a long innings as a junior star because of his talent. When Sergachev joined Tampa Bay, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder also had a bad habit of playing with one hand on his stick and struggled with the defense part of being a defenseman.

“He had a few things to learn,” Cooper said. “It was really hurting his defense. And he could use his legs to get out of trouble, but he had to use that big frame and it just took time.

Sergachev used his time wisely, learning from McDonagh, Norris Trophy winner Victor Heidman and other experienced defense personnel. He wanted to be more like them, talked to them every day about what he could do better and committed to perfecting his style of play.

“I want to be a leader in the team and I’m trying to do what they do on the ice: intercepting shots and playing heavy when I need to, taking offense when I need to, ‘ said Sergechev.

He had 10 points in Tampa Bay’s 2020 championship run and assisted one of Nikita Kucherov’s two goals in Game 1 against Montreal. Perhaps more important, he blocked a few shots and wasn’t afraid to put the body on – between and after the whistle – Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher.

Elements of hockey that Sergechev’s game lacked are now front and center, and that’s a big reason the Lightning is heading for another title.

“The boy has ever noticed this and is proud of it,” Cooper said. “There may be some players, they will put you to death and get out there and want to keep doing it their way. Sergi turned out to be a really well-rounded defenseman and it was fun watching him work because that kid has a bright future ahead of him.”

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Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter https://twitter.com/Swhyno

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-SPORTS

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