MONTREAL - It won't be long before Mikhail Sergachev etches his name in the Canadiens' record books.
When the Russian defenseman dons his No. 22 jersey on Thursday night at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, he will become the fourth youngest player in franchise history to suit up for the CH, accomplishing the feat at 18 years and 110 days old.
That moves him ahead of former rearguard Mathieu Schneider, who was just eight days older than the Canadiens' most recent opening-round selection when he began his NHL career with the Habs in Philadelphia on October 8th, 1987.
YOUNGEST PLAYERS IN CANADIENS HISTORY
Securing a roster spot was by no means a given for Sergachev just months after going ninth overall in late June in Western New York. But, he clearly managed to stand out from the pack at rookie camp - before continuing to impress team brass at training camp - to ultimately make his NHL dreams a reality at a very early age.
"It's just been pretty unbelievable, being around those guys, pros who are some of the best players in the world. It's pretty amazing. Not many guys get the chance to make the team at 18. That was my first goal since being drafted," shared Sergachev, reflecting upon his first-ever training camp experience with the Canadiens that ultimately culminated in his being rewarded with a coveted spot on the blue line.
Video: OTT@MTL: Gallagher deflects shot in for PPG
"Life has changed a lot. I feel like I got drafted yesterday. It's pretty unbelievable just how fast I got here and was playing exhibition games. Now, I've got to keep learning every game and every practice, ask coaches to show me video, and just come to work and do my job," added Sergachev, the youngest ever rookie recipient of the OHL's Most Outstanding Defenseman of the Year Award in 2015-16, who clearly understands the significant learning curve that comes with making the jump to the NHL ranks so quickly.
Fortunately, Sergachev will be well-surrounded in Montreal. In addition to being taught the tricks of the NHL trade from former defensemen in head coach Michel Therrien and assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault, the Nizhnekamsk native will also benefit from the experience and guidance of seasoned mentors on the back end to help him along, many of whom he's already paid close attention to during the preseason.
"I think I looked at Marky [Andrei Markov], for sure. I've just had a couple of practices with him and a couple of games. It was pretty unbelievable to watch him and see what he does. He's so poised in the defensive zone, so I'm trying to be like that," explained Sergachev, before expanding upon a few more veteran defensemen he'll be sharing a locker room with going forward. "Playing with [Jeff] Petry, he's such a skilled guy and a great skater. [Alexei] Emelin, too. He's going to hit everyone, no matter who it is. He's really smart on breakouts. I also looked up to [Shea] Weber because he's one of the best defenders in the world with the best shot in hockey right now."
Video: Audette completes a remarkable Sergachev rush
At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Sergachev already boasts the physical attributes to play his position at hockey's highest level, along with remarkable skating ability and a willingness to engage his opponents, of course. He's a confident youngster, too, which will only help his cause as he tries to slow down the top players on the planet while learning the intricacies of the NHL game.
"It's not that it's a much faster game [at the NHL level]. It's not that players skate faster than me. They're just thinking faster and I need to get used to that. They also make harder passes and have harder shots," shared Sergachev, who says time spent back home in Russia training in the months following the NHL Draft - along with the work he's been putting in while in Montreal - has served to prepare him for the challenge ahead. "To handle that [speed], I worked on my conditioning over the summer. I can play minutes. I feel pretty comfortable on the ice. I think I showed management how I can play against NHL guys."
Video: Sergachev dishes out a big hit
Ironically, Sergachev will make his NHL debut in the same arena where he was drafted. It will mark the beginning of what both he and the Canadiens envision will be a successful and prosperous career with the organization. Now, he just can't wait to get started.
"I don't know how to explain the type of feeling [when putting on the Canadiens jersey]. It's just the big history of the club and I feel a part of it," concluded Sergachev with a smile. "Maybe like in 20 years someone is going to look up and see my name somewhere around [the Bell Centre]. That would be pretty cool."
It most definitely would, Mikhail. Congratulations and best of luck, kid!