BROSSARD – Just two days after signing his entry-level contract, Mikhail Sergachev hit the ice in a Canadiens uniform for the very first time on Sunday.
One of 45 players currently plying their trade at the Canadiens’ Development Camp on the South Shore, the 18-year-old defenseman took part in his first practice session alongside prospects and invitees aplenty looking to catch the eye of coaches and staffers through Thursday.
Sergachev, who was drafted ninth overall by the Canadiens in Buffalo on June 24, has spent the last couple of days getting acclimated to his new surroundings and trying to get mentally prepared for the challenge that comes with strutting your stuff against more experienced prospects who’ve been through these camps before.
“It’s a real shock to see so many players here for camp. It’s exciting, but at the same time, it makes me a little nervous,” admitted Sergachev, the Windsor Spitfires’ third-leading point-getter in 2015-16, amassing 17 goals and 57 points – including 31 on the power play alone – in 67 regular season games in his first year in North America.
Nerves aside, Sergachev is well aware of what he has to do over the next few days to make a good first impression. His ultimate goal is to secure an NHL roster spot come October, but he fully appreciates the steps involved in making that dream a reality.
“I need to show the coaches and management what I can do. I’d like to make the team next season, but you never know. I’ll know that after this camp, the summer and the camps after that. You never know what can happen. I think I still have some things to work on. That’s for sure,” said Sergachev, who was named the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman this past season, becoming the youngest rookie and the second-youngest player to ever claim the Max Kaminsky Trophy.
In the meantime, Sergachev plans on soaking up as much on and off-ice knowledge as possible while in Montreal. That process got off to a strong start a few days ago when the towering rearguard had the opportunity to see one of the Canadiens' veterans go about his business in the gym.
“There are so many good young players here who are really good. It’s my goal to learn from them. I saw [Tomas] Plekanec train in the gym here. He works so hard. I want to learn from a guy like that. It’s incredible to be able to learn from all of them,” said Sergachev, who is hungry to pick up some of the tricks of the hockey trade from anyone willing to pass them along.
That includes making an effort to pick fellow Russian Nikita Scherbak’s brain while the two find themselves in the same city. The Canadiens’ 26th overall selection back in 2014 has been impressed by what he’s seen from Sergachev so far during their brief time together.
“I’ve seen his highlights and I’ve seen him on the ice. He’s good. He’s skilled. He’s a two-way guy. He can play defense and offense. He’s strong. I think he’s a good defenseman,” praised Scherbak, a veteran by development camp standards who is making his third appearance at the annual gathering in Quebec. “I’m happy to see young guys around, especially when a Russian player got drafted in the first round. I’ve been in the same situation before. It’s exciting. Two years ago, I was the one asking the guys what I should do and what I shouldn’t do.”
Now, it’s Sergachev’s turn to do just that. He’s taking things in stride, though, and just focusing on making the most of his first chance to skate with some of the best and brightest prospects in the Canadiens organization.
“If I’m sent back to the Spitfires [later on this year], I’ll do everything I can to help them win. That’s for sure. But, one way or another, it will be a special year. I’ll either be with the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL or taking part in the Memorial Cup in Windsor. It would definitely be even better if I could stay here because it’s my ultimate goal,” confided Sergachev, who likens his style of play to that of reigning Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty. “Everybody in Montreal thinks about hockey and winning the Stanley Cup. It’s very special.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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