MONTREAL - It's safe to say it's been an eventful few months for Canadiens prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
Four NHL games - including one as an emergency recall at the end of the regular season - a bronze medal with Russia at the World Junior Hockey Championship, and a spot in the upcoming Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires, who will be hosting the annual event this year. Not too shabby for an 18-year-old.
Nevertheless, Sergachev isn't really satisfied with his 2016-17 campaign, especially after the Spitfires fell in seven games to the reigning Memorial Cup champion London Knights in the OHL Playoffs.
"It wasn't good because we lost in the first round, but now we have six weeks to prepare ourselves for the Memorial Cup. I feel like things are going to end up the way I want them to, though," shared the Russian defenseman, who is hoping his squad can follow in the footsteps of the Shawinigan Cataractes when they managed to hoist the prestigious trophy 40 days after being eliminated in 2012.
"We'll be fresh and ready. I hope we won't have to deal with any injuries. To get ourselves motivated, we'll have intense practices and skating sessions, and it will be the same thing in the gym. We'll also be playing intra-squad games. It will be fun to work through those with my teammates and coaches. That's how we're approaching the long break," said Sergachev, who scored 10 goals and added 33 assists in 50 games with his Junior club this season.
On a more personal note, the young star who sports No. 22 with the Canadiens is still pleased with his progress, even if it's just the beginning of a long road.
"I could have played better, but I think I improved as the season went on. I was playing more minutes, I had different roles. The season before that, I already had to apply myself at both ends of the ice, but I really played an offensive style of game. For the first time this season I was used as much on the top power play unit as I was when we were short-handed. I played a ton of minutes," explained the Canadiens' top pick from 2016.
"I gained confidence. The more you play, the more chances you have to improve, and I think that's what I did in my own zone in corner battles. I make better decisions in those aspects of the game," continued Sergachev.
Sergachev admits he also matured in the process.
"I played in the NHL and at the World Junior Hockey Championship. Even if I wasn't at my best, I gained experience," he stressed.
Despite his disappointment at the time, Sergachev confesses that he understands that the Canadiens made the right decision when they returned him to Windsor after he suited up for three of the first nine games of the season.
"Being sent down wasn't tough for me because I want to play hockey. I'm young. I'm only 18 years old. Playing in the NHL is every kid's dream and it's mine, too. I had many chances to prove that I'm an NHL player, but I didn't seize them, so they sent me down. I played a lot in Junior and I improved. It was the right move," affirmed the 6-foot-3, 215-pound rearguard.
Having been given a taste of the NHL, no matter how brief, Sergachev is more motivated than ever to return. He confirms that saw a big difference in his game when he played the final regular season game of the year with the Canadiens on April 8 in Detroit.
"I hadn't played in the League for six months and all game long I was getting better and better. I made some good defensive plays, I blocked a shot and I had a few chances. I caused a turnover, but I can fix that. I'm going to continue improving and gain confidence if I play in the NHL next year," mentioned Sergachev, who is still looking for his first career NHL point.
Taking part in the Canadiens' final game at Joe Louis Arena is an experience the Nizhnekamsk native won't soon forget.
"It was unreal and the game was perfect. I made a few mistakes, but I seized the moment, especially with it being the second-to-last game at the Joe and there were 20,000 people cheering. I cherished that experienced and it encouraged me going forward," confided Sergachev.
The teenaged-standout will arrive at training camp in the fall with all of those valuable experiences in tow. He's well aware, however, that he'll have to prove himself all over again come September.
"Now, I know what the League and the players are about. I should be more confident coming to camp next season and I'll be 100 percent. Nothing will change for me. I haven't earned my spot in the NHL yet and I'll have to start from scratch, just like last year when I almost made it. I know more, and above all else, I know that I have to be better," he concluded.
In the meantime, Sergachev is planning on playing a leading role in the Memorial Cup from May 18-28 in Windsor, and he's hoping to cap his whirlwind season by hoisting the trophy this spring.