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Making the cut

McCarron, Sergachev, Lehkonen still in the hunt to make the big team

by Steven Nechay @canadiensmtl /

BROSSARD - A press release isn't issued for keeping your job at camp, but Monday's biggest newsmakers were those absent from the most recent round of cuts.

Before opening a new week of practice in Brossard, the Canadiens announced on Monday that nine players had been reassigned to the club's AHL affiliate, or sent back to their respective Junior teams.

Among the 27 players who now remain with the big club to close out the final stretch of training camp are a few less-than-usual suspects, including Michael McCarron, Artturi Lehkonen and Mikhail Sergachev.

The latter's presence, most notably, has created a buzz among players and media alike.

"I think the young guys have all done a good job, but I think Sergachev is someone we've all been excited about. I've only watched [him in] a couple of games, but he kind of does everything well," dished Brendan Gallagher on the Canadiens' ninth-overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo. "He skates well both offensively and defensively, and it's impressive to see that at such a young age."

When even Gallagher - at the ripe old age of 24 - considers you young, people tend to take notice. And while Sergachev could become the youngest player to crack the Canadiens' roster since Alex Galchenyuk did so at just 18 years of age, you wouldn't know it by looking at him.

Video: Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty on Sergachev

"Physically, he's a man. He's one of those big, large-built Russian players. [...] Sometimes with the spotlight, kids come in here and get caught up in the wrong things. But Sergachev is a guy who has his head on his shoulders. He just comes to work every day with his work boots, and does and says the right things," underlined Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, who was 21 when he made his NHL debut. "He's not like any 18-year-old I've ever seen at camp in terms of his physicality and maturity. He's done an unbelievable job so far and I don't think there's anything more he could have done at this camp. It's just up to him to keep playing that way, to keep learning, and to keep getting better."

Another big body who has impressed at camp, like Sergachev, happens to be a fellow - although slightly older - first-round draft pick.

Since making his regular season NHL debut a year ago, McCarron has picked up where he left off this preseason, scoring a goal and posting a plus-2 differential in addition to firing seven shots on goal over four games played.

"I think McCarron has had a good camp. He's used his body to his advantage," mentioned Gallagher. "He's played physical and aggressive and he's done well with what he's had to work with."

Video: OTT@MTL: McCarron skates around defenseman for goal
Despite being of a smaller stature than McCarron, Lehkonen has also made his presence felt during preseason play. Looking to parlay his previous experience playing pro in Sweden into a full-time gig in Montreal, the Finnish forward has fired 12 shots on goal in three exhibition games and now finds himself skating alongside two veterans in Tomas Plekanec and Alexander Radulov.

"He is very skilled as well, and is a bit older than your usual rookie," shared Pacioretty on the 21-year-old winger, who was drafted 55th overall by Montreal in 2013. "He's had the minor pro experience over in Sweden, and he's coming in at a good time with some openings in the lineup. He would have probably liked to put up some more points offensively, but that will come. There's an adjustment period coming from the big ice to the small ice. He's done a great job so far, and we hope he can help out our team."

While he's still searching for his first goal in a Canadiens uniform, Lehkonen has managed to stand out with his play away from the puck. He may be focused on lighting the lamp, but his coach has already been impressed by his ability to do everything but.

"You can't always judge a player's performance by goals and assists and that's a mistake we can't make with him now," warned Michel Therrien. "A guy can score a goal but still have a tough game. As far as we're concerned, there are a lot of things about his game that we love. He just has to keep doing what he's doing."

Sound advice for all 27 players left in Montreal who are hoping to see their names make the cut for an opening-night roster spot.

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