Canadiens’ Sergachev has sights set on NHL next season

Watch as the Montreal Canadiens select Mikhail Sergachev with their 9th pick.

BROSSARD, Quebec—There are many reasons to believe that Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth-overall pick at the 2016 NHL Draft, will be playing for the Montreal Canadiens next season.

He’d be the first 18-year-old defenceman to earn his way onto the team’s roster since Mathieu Schneider did it in 1987. But don’t put it past him.

It was on the draft floor in Buffalo, on June 24, that Montreal’s vice president of player personnel and director of amateur scouting, Trevor Timmins, referred to the Russian as a player who was "physically ready" for the NHL. Sergachev’s measurements—at 6-foot-2, and nearly 220 pounds—lend credence to that assertion, but his play at Canadiens development camp this week might be the best evidence of his preparedness.

He was the youngest of the 45 participants, and he was also the most impressive. He scored a hat trick in Tuesday’s scrimmage, he was a physical force at Wednesday’s, and he added another goal Thursday as part of an utterly dominant performance.

Hundreds, if not thousands of Canadiens fans drove out to Brossard this week to take in the fluidity of Sergachev’s skating stride, the poise he operates with and the sheer talent he displays in all three zones. They did not leave disappointed.

No one should be surprised about the Nizhnekamsk, Russia native’s showing. In April, he became the youngest player to ever be named the OHL’s Most Outstanding Defenceman of the Year. He joined former NHLer Bryan Berard as one of two rookies to earn the honour. No defenceman in the league scored more than his 17 goals, and his 57 points in 67 games placed him third among blue liners.

"His level of confidence with the puck, at his age, is exceptional," said Canadiens director of player development Martin Lapointe. "To only be 18 and be so composed with the puck is impressive.

"He picks his spots to get up in the play. He defends well. We also saw his level of competitiveness is very high."

At no point was Sergachev’s competitiveness more apparent this week than when he engaged 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward Michael McCarron (drafted 25th overall by Montreal in 2013) in the first half of Thursday’s scrimmage. The two had a heated verbal exchange following some stick swinging and they collided a shift later as McCarron tried to get by on a one-on-one rush.

"It’s just hockey; it’s not soccer," said Sergachev afterwards. "You gotta be tough."

Lapointe, who accumulated over 1400 penalty minutes in 991 NHL contests, knows tough when he sees it.

"The strength he has already, at 18, is impressive," said Lapointe. "I love his brute force."

But making the NHL at 18 doesn’t depend solely on size, toughness or ability; it’s about attitude, maturity and mental wherewithal.

"Being a good pro is key," said Lapointe. "We drafted him for a reason. He’s got some skills and character.

"But he came here and was willing to learn. He was asking questions to everybody—to the nutritionist, to the sports psychologist, to the strength coach. He wants to learn. For me that’s key and [those are] all good signs."

Lapointe wasn’t done gushing about Sergachev’s eagerness to show how competitive he is. When asked what impressed him the most about the Russian, he pointed to the vigour with which he approached the Vo2 max test (the maximum rate of oxygen consumption as measured during incremental exercise).

"I’m telling you, he was going to die on that bike," said Lapointe.

Sergachev’s endurance is likely to improve after a summer’s worth of training alongside Ivan Provorov, who was drafted 7th overall by Philadelphia in 2015. The pair will return to Russia in the coming days to prepare for rookie and training camps with their respective teams.

As for where he’ll play next season, Sergachev says he believes he can make the Canadiens. Lapointe believes he can do it, too.

The Canadiens have Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Greg Pateryn and Zach Redmond penciled into spots on the right side of their blue line. That’s where Sergachev is most comfortable, but general manager Marc Bergevin noted on June 24 that he can play both sides.

Sergachev’s versatility might play a big role in his ability to crack Montreal’s roster. If he can’t do it, a return to the Spitfires, who will host the 2017 Memorial Cup, would hardly be considered a setback.

But based on his strong season and what he just showed at development camp, he might just be the first 18-year-old defenceman to join the Canadiens in nearly 30 years.

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