Mikhail Sergachev’s demotion a win for Spitfires and Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin talks about the decision to send Mikhail Sergachev back to the OHL.

BROSSARD, Que.—Try as you might, you will not find a loser in the scenario that sees Mikhail Sergachev being returned to the Windsor Spitfires by the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens accelerated the development of a player they’ll undoubtedly need to rely on in the near future—and they did it without burning the first year of his entry-level contract. They were also able to make this move without any concern about how their current group of defencemen will fare without Sergachev.

The Canadiens went 5-0-1 with him watching from the press box.

It’s a win for the Spitfires, too.

They started their season 10-4-0, and now they’re getting back a better version of the player who was named the OHL’s most outstanding defenceman last season—and they’re getting him back with plenty of time to spare before hosting this year’s Memorial Cup.

And even if he might not feel like it on Monday, Sergachev is the biggest winner in all of this.

“I wasn’t happy,” he said about receiving the news that he was being demoted.

But Sergachev wasn’t devastated, either.

As he stood in front of Montreal reporters for one final scrum, pondering everything he had learned over two months with the Canadiens, he couldn’t help but smile about rubbing shoulders with some of the NHL’s best players.

“Not many 18-year-old kids can talk to Shea Weber and Andrei Markov and play games with them and practise with them,” said Sergachev. “I had that chance.”

It was a dream come true, lived out in front of his parents and younger sister who had watched him leave home as a 17-year-old boy last year and witnessed his first strides as a man making his professional debut at the Bell Centre earlier this month.

And though Sergachev wasn’t quite ready to wake up from all of that, he admitted that the upcoming OHL-Russia Super Series games, the 2017 World Junior championship and the Memorial Cup are all the things he has to look forward to this year.

The only other person who might be more excited about all of that is Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel, who is thrilled to be getting back the player he believes will be the best in his league this season.

“I’ll be at the airport to pick him up,” Rychel said via text. “I think Misha’s time with a great organization like the Canadiens can only help him moving forward. I’m sure he witnessed how to be a pro and how hard pro players work on a daily basis.”

One could see those lessons getting lost on an average 18-year-old kid prone to taking things for granted. But as Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin pointed out on Monday, it’s impossible to not be impressed by Sergachev’s maturity and overall attitude.

Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty was one of many members of the team remarking on the same thing.

“I can’t say enough good things about his persona and the way he handled every situation,” said Pacioretty. “He really was a student while he was here every day.”

The biggest things Sergachev said he learned—much like any other player being exposed to NHL pace for the first time—is how much faster he needs to think and react, how much faster he has to skate, and how much faster he needs to execute plays.

“He’s used to playing 35 minutes in junior, and under those circumstances he paces himself,” said Bergevin in French.

He continued in English, saying, “In junior you have more time. At this level there’s no time. Time and space is limited, and he has to get to a point where he has to work on that.”

And maybe Sergachev would be losing in this scenario if he felt going back to junior wouldn’t enable him to work on the things Bergevin wants to see from him. But he said on Monday that the pace of the WJC, the OHL playoffs and the run to the Memorial Cup would afford him the opportunity to round out his game.

“If he wants to make the jump next year, he’ll have to defend with an added urgency and be more intense on every shift this year,” said Rychel.

There’s no reason to think Sergachev won’t follow through, which is just one more reason that his return to Windsor is a win for all parties involved.

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