BROSSARD - After making the Canadiens' roster out of training camp, Mikhail Sergachev is headed back to the junior ranks to continue working on his game.
On Monday afternoon, general manager Marc Bergevin elected to assign the 18-year-old defenseman to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires where he was a standout last season before being selected ninth overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo.
During his stay in Montreal, Sergachev suited up for three regular season games, but was held off the scoresheet while averaging 10:26 of ice time per outing and posting a plus-1 differential along the way.
Video: Sergachev on being assigned to Windsor
The Russian rearguard, who made his last appearance for the Canadiens on October 20 against the Arizona Coyotes at the Bell Centre, says it took some time for news of his returning to Windsor to fully sink in. While disappointed that his tenure with the big club came to an abrupt end, Sergachev respected the decision which was obviously made with his long-term growth in mind.
"Obviously, I didn't expect that. I was not happy. But, after that I thought that I just needed to play more hockey. Now, I'm pretty happy about it," said Sergachev, who will make his way back to Canada's southernmost city and be in the Spitfires' lineup on Thursday night at home against the Saginaw Spirit. "I'm going to have a chance to play in the [CIBC] Canada Russia Series and play a lot of minutes in Windsor, too. I'm going to help my team win. I'm just looking forward to it."
The reigning OHL Defenseman of the Year insists time spent with the Canadiens afforded him the opportunity to learn lessons aplenty about the NHL game, in general, and what it really takes to make the permanent jump to hockey's highest level. He now has a good understanding of the things he needs to focus on in the weeks and months to come to prepare himself for his next shot with the CH.
"I've just got to be quicker, everywhere on the ice. O-zone. D-zone. I've just got to be quicker," stressed Sergachev, acknowledging the noticeable differences that exist between the CHL and NHL ranks. "I thought about it from the first [preseason] game I played against Ottawa. Now, I think the same thing."
Bergevin didn't mince words in saying that the Canadiens' prospect simply wasn't prepared to ply his trade in Montreal on an everyday basis. Certain things in Sergachev's game caught his eye over the past couple of weeks that helped him reach that conclusion in conjunction with the feedback from the rest of his staff.
"He was nervous in Buffalo [on opening night]. We can see that he's not ready yet. Like I always say, the players make decisions for us. It's not me. It's him. I watched him and he did some nice things, but he's not there yet. I think that you need to wait to hit your full potential at a level to move on to the next one. So, he has to go back to junior," explained Bergevin, before expanding upon his thought process with respect to Sergachev's assignment some more.
"I felt that he was going to change his game just to play here, like he was trying to survive just to stay in Montreal. I didn't want that. I wanted him to be the same player he was in Windsor, and that means that he isn't ready," added Bergevin, noting that seeing Sergachev pace himself on the ice, at times, and not showcase a consistent style of play, was a good indicator that his young charge needed some additional fine-tuning in the OHL.
The move, said Bergevin, will also provide Sergachev with valuable opportunities to participate in several big-name tournaments, aside from the Canada Russia series in November, of course. He'll likely suit up for Team Russia at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship in Montreal and Toronto come late December, before taking part in the 2017 Memorial Cup - which is being hosted at the WFCU Centre in Windsor next May.
Video: Bergevin on assigning Sergachev to Windsor
Even if the Nizhnekamsk, Russia native enjoys a productive campaign and collects some hardware, though, Bergevin says he isn't guaranteed a roster spot next October with the likes of Noah Juulsen set to make the jump to the pro ranks in short order. It really is all up to Sergachev and his play.
"We see him being at training camp next year, but when I spoke to him [on Monday], I told him that it's not because he started this past year in Montreal that he'll start the next one here, too. It's all based on performance," said Bergevin. "I told him to be the best possible defenseman in Windsor and to play at a level with more pace. He still has the attitude of a junior player, but a good attitude still. He's a good kid. He made good strides with us."
With that in mind, Sergachev is leaving Montreal with nothing but positive thoughts and high hopes for another memorable season in the Rose City.
"I had a good time here [in Montreal]. Obviously, I talked to guys like [Andrei] Markov and [Shea] Weber because they have good experience in the NHL. It's pretty amazing. Not every 18-year-old kid can talk to Shea Weber and Markov and play games with them and practice with them. I had that chance," concluded Sergachev with a smile, before laying out his objectives with Windsor. "Win a Mem Cup. Win an OHL Cup. Be the best."
Sounds good, Mikhail! Go to it!