On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Lightning completed a major trade with the Montreal Canadiens, sending talented forward Jonathan Drouin to Montreal in exchange for 18-year-old defenseman prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth overall pick (and second defenseman selected) in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Additionally, the Lightning will get Montreal's second-round pick in the 2018 Draft -- a pick the Canadiens acquired from the Washington Capitals -- and the Bolts will send their sixth-round selection in the same draft to Montreal if Sergachev plays 40 or more games this season (including playoffs) for the Lightning.
Some might wonder why Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman would trade Drouin, an established NHL player who scored 21 goals and ranked third on the Lightning for scoring (53 points) in 2016-17, for a defensive prospect who has only four games of experience in the league and just wrapped up his season helping the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League win the Memorial Cup.
But while Sergachev might not necessarily fill an immediate need on the blue line for the Lightning, his upside and potential was too good for the Bolts to pass up.
"There's a lot of things we liked that suited us in making a deal for Mikhail Sergachev," Yzerman said Thursday evening on a conference call with reporters. "The biggest reason was we were getting a young defenseman that's going to have an impact in the NHL for a long time. Whether that's this year or two years from now, time will tell, but I think he's going to be a good player in the league for a long time."
Sergachev, a native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, made the Canadiens out of training camp this season and nearly stuck around for the full season. He played four games for Montreal and finished plus-one before the Canadiens decided to send him back for his second season in juniors.
In 50 games this season with Windsor, Sergachev scored 10 goals and added 33 assists, ranking tied for third among all Spitfires for scoring (43 points) and first among defensemen. He averaged a point a game, scoring a goal and adding three assists, and was plus-three in helping Windsor win the prestigious Memorial Cup.
"We watch him play in junior," said Yzerman, who stated he began talks with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin about a potential trade roughly a week ago. "We watched him in his draft year. I watched him play this year at the Memorial Cup again. He's got good size. He's very strong. He's physical. He skates very well. He's got an excellent shot. He moves the puck well. We're hoping that he can continue to be that type of player as he turns pro and do that in the NHL. We think he has a chance to play in all situations in this league, and it's very difficult to find players of that caliber. In this instance, a prospect of that caliber, they're difficult to acquire."
And while Sergachev is by no means a lock to make the Lightning roster coming out of training camp this fall, he's also not necessarily headed back to juniors either.
"Our hope is we're going to give Mikhail an opportunity to make our team," Yzerman said. "We're hopeful he can, but if not, he still has another year of eligibility in junior."
Adding the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Sergachev gives the Lightning a potential elite caliber defenseman to groom into their system. And there are other benefits to adding Sergachev too. With the expansion draft taking place in less than a week, Drouin would have required a spot on the Lightning's protected list. Sergachev does not, freeing up a slot for another player on the team the organization would like to keep. Moving Drouin also frees up cap space for the Lightning to potentially sign restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat as well as make other additions during the summer signing period.
"Had we acquired a D-man that needed to be protected, it would have required us…reacting in some way to protect the players we wanted to," Yzerman said. "That did have some more appeal to us in making this trade."
Yzerman also said the Lightning might not be finished making moves this offseason. They could target another defenseman who fits within the Bolts system. Or they could target another forward to help fill the void with Drouin's departure. The organization will have a better idea in what direction they want to go once the expansion draft takes place and they see which player they lose.
"We'll certainly look at anything," he said. "Any type of move that we feel is going to improve our team, whether it be a forward or a defenseman, we will continue to do that."