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Star quality

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – The Canadiens have themselves a very special player in Mikhail Sergachev.

On Thursday morning, the 18-year-old defenseman closed out his development camp experience in style, notching the game-winning goal in Team A’s 4-2 scrimmage victory over Team B at the Bell Sports Complex with plenty of fans looking on from the stands.

Once again, Sergachev was among the smoothest skaters and most deceptive stick handlers on the ice. That really was the case all week long. He stood out from the crowd with his relentlessness, creativity and remarkable overall skill set for a player his age.

Director of player development Martin Lapointe couldn’t say enough good things about the Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2016, who turned his fair share of heads over the last six days in Montreal.

“He made a really good impression. We saw just how physically strong he was. He’s only 18 years old. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. His level of confidence with the puck is exceptional. He’s calm with the puck. He skates with it up ice at the right time and he defends well. His compete level is very high. Doing all of that at 18 years old is very impressive,” praised Lapointe, referencing Sergachev’s noteworthy composure going up against many young guns boasting far more experience in these types of camps than he does.

Equally as impressive was Sergachev’s willingness to engage with towering forward Michael McCarron during scrimmages over the last two days. The pair squared off on several occasions, chirping at one another repeatedly in the heat of battle and while going to their respective benches. McCarron might have a few inches on Sergachev in the height department – and a few pounds on him, too – but that didn’t stop the ninth-overall pick this past June from going head-to-head with the imposing centerman.

“I think he just helped me because I’ve got to go through it. We’re just chirping each other. That’s o.k. That happens sometimes. Mike’s a great guy,” said Sergachev, who demonstrated a penchant for mixing things up and playing a fearless brand of hockey in all four of his outings on the South Shore. “It’s just hockey. Everybody has emotions. Nothing bad happened. He’s a forward. I’m a defenseman. We’re not enemies. We’re friends.”

McCarron, meanwhile, already has a great deal of respect for what Sergachev is capable of. He is adamant that the Nizhnekamsk, Russia native has an extremely bright future ahead of him with the Canadiens.

“He’s a Top 10 pick. He’s amazing. He can play both sides of the puck. He’s a special player to watch. He’s got a good stride. He’s got a good shot. He’s a good defender and he hits. He’s got all of the attributes. He’s a tough kid,” said McCarron, before giving credit to Sergachev for another strong showing on Thursday following a three-goal performance on Tuesday. “I was trying to slow him down, but he was too good today.”

Based on everything Lapointe saw from the Canadiens’ newest prized pupil, the two-time Stanley Cup champion wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him patrolling the blue line in the NHL sooner rather than later. In fact, Lapointe didn’t rule out the possibility of Sergachev earning a roster spot in Montreal in October.

“He knows how to play hockey and he’s got character. The Montreal Canadiens have always put an emphasis on character, and Mikhail Sergachev demonstrated it this week,” said Lapointe. “It’s up to him to demonstrate that he can stay, but it isn’t crazy to think that he could play in the NHL as soon as this year.”

With rookie camp – and main camp – on the horizon in September, Sergachev will return to Russia in the meantime to train with 19-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov, the seventh-overall selection of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015, and his strength coach in Yaroslavl. He knows that there are a few areas of his game that still need fine-tuning, and he plans on addressing all of them while overseas.

“I need to improve my defense. I’ve got to be harder [to play against] in the defensive zone,” admitted Sergachev, whose strong showing at development camp will only up the expectations the Canadiens' brass have for him by the time rookie camp begins. “I’ve just got to show my skills and play my game. You’ve got to be hard and tough. I’ve seen some guys in the gym [this week]. I’ve seen how they work. It’s just amazing. They work so hard, and I can learn from that.”

A hard worker in his own right, Sergachev plans on putting all of his development camp knowledge and experience to good use back home before returning to Canada to ultimately make his case for a spot with the big club in 2016-17.

“I believe in myself. I’ve got to work hard this summer, and show in rookie camp and main camp that I can play,” concluded Sergachev. “I’ve got to learn from [the scrimmages] and play better and better. I can show more.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

SEE ALSO
RAW: Mikhail Sergachev - July 7
RAW: Martin Lapointe - July 7
RECAP: Development Camp - Scrimmage - July 7
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