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Mikhail Sergachev primed for more power play time as part of expanded role



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by Erik Erlendsson | @Erik_Erlendsson | Like us on Facebook
January 9, 2021

TAMPA – The strides made by Mikhail Sergachev in his first three years in a Tampa Bay Lightning sweater are like watching a timid freshman on campus at Yale earn summa cum laude honors before graduating.

He’s moved to the top of the class.

With that growth now comes more responsibility, a higher profile role and more trust, including possibly replacing an All-Star on the power play just days before the Lightning are scheduled to open the season in defense of a Stanley Cup title.

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Sergachev was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft, the second defenseman chosen in his draft class. One year later, the Lightning acquired the 6-foot-3, 215-pound defenseman from Montreal in a 1-for-1 trade that sent former No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin.

At the time of the acquisition, Sergachev filled an immediate need as a young, developing defenseman, something the Lightning have not been able to secure in the organization since selecting Victor Hedman with the second overall pick in 2009.

As soon as he showed up to summer development camp a few weeks after the trade, Sergachev’s place as one of the top prospects in the Lightning system was evident. His size and skill were noticeable right off the bat. It just took a little time for Sergachev to put it all on display in the NHL as he tried to just find his way.

“Coming into camp I had pretty much no expectations at all,” Sergachev said. “I had no confidence when you’re a young guy, you’re coming to the team with Victor Hedman and (Braydon Coburn) you know those guys big names in the league. You’re trying to make room for yourself, it’s tough.”

By the midway point of his third year, Sergachev found himself. After being eased in during his first two seasons he made a strong statement, fittingly, on New Year’s Eve and announcing that after two-plus seasons of finding his way, he had arrived.

“Sergey changed it today,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “Big hit and stood up and had a real good fight. That got the whole bench going.”

After signing a three-year deal that carries a salary cap hit of $4.8 million, Sergachev is set to take on an expanded role this season.

In his first three seasons, with 106 points, Sergachev is already the highest-scoring defenseman from his draft class, which includes Charlie McAvoy, Samuel Girard, Jakob Chychrun and Filip Hronek. Sergachev is the seventh highest scoring player overall in his draft class.

His ice time has gone from 15:22 per game to 17:55 to 20:22. In the playoffs, Sergachev averaged 22:37 of ice time, which is skewed slightly by the five overtime game.

That is a snippet of how his game has come along over the course of his first three seasons.

Now, there’s a good chance Sergachev will be sliding on to the top power play unit to occupy the spot on the right circle normally manned by Nikita Kucherov. With Kucherov out for the regular season, the Lightning need to find different looks for the power play and have been experimenting throughout the abbreviated training camp.

One of those looks has been to put Sergachev, who has been running the high point on the second power play unit (and some on the top unit in the playoffs) in the circle along the halfboards with Hedman at the center point, Steven Stamkos at the left circle, Brayden Point in the bumber slot and Alex Killorn as the net presence and down low.

“The one thing is Sergy’s got a big time shot so you kind of gives you a threat from both sides with him and Stamkos,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But you know you have to weigh that against the benefits of another unit and Sergey’s pretty prolific up top.”

Sergachev has been getting reps with both units through the camp, with Ryan McDonagh running the point on the second unit when Sergachev works with the first unit.

It’s a different look and a different feel for Sergachev, who knows his job – if he sees regular minutes with the top unit – is not to replace Kucherov, but knows his role will be the same.

“It’s a lot different, especially for me, I’ve played there so little,” Sergachev said. “Obviously I’m no Kuch but have some skill I just have to work on it every practice. And if I’m going to get a chance to play there I’m going to make sure that I’m ready.”

Kucherov has led the Lightning in power play points each of the past three seasons and led the league in power play points in 2018-19. His ability to make plays, especially through the seam over to Stamkos at the opposite circle has made that duo among the most dangerous power play pairs in the league.

And Sergachev is well aware that while his shot is a big part of his arsenal, he can’t be just a shooter if he’s in that spot.

“Yeah obviously, we have to change that because he’s expecting me to make that pass through the guy,” Sergachev said. “So that’s that’s the whole idea of a power play with speed and as I said I can’t replace him but I can I can pass it sometimes so I’m just going to work on it and not just take dumb shots all the time like trying to shoot through the guys. I just have to make some plays and feel like I have the ability to do it.”

Even during a power play practice on Sunday morning, in which each unit worked for one minute, the coaching staff was moving personnel around trying to get a different feel for how things might work.

“It could end up being a situation then where you know sometimes he’s on the number one unit and we switch mid game,” Cooper said. “So we’re still working on this, (the scrimmage) would give us a little better indication when we work on it and then we’ll just have to keep going from there.”

No matter what the coaching staff opts for however, Sergachev is going to be a big part of how they want to attack power play situations this season.

“The good news is Sergey’s going to be on the power play,” Cooper said. “The bad news is we don’t know which unit he’s going to be running or if he’s going to be on both.”

It will be an expanded role, no matter which way they lean, which shows how much Sergachev has grown since arriving in Tampa Bay.


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