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Canadiens' Mikhail Sergachev sets sights on NHL

Dedication on, off ice could help 2016 first-round pick play for Montreal this season

by Sean Farrell / Correspondent

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Mikhail Sergachev is a young man with an audacious plan.

Selected by the Montreal Canadiens with the ninth pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, Sergachev arrived in North America one year ago with the goal of playing in the NHL as soon as possible.

The 18-year-old Russian defenseman's path to that goal currently runs through Canadiens development camp, where he is basking confidently and self-assuredly in the glow that comes with being hockey-mad Montreal's most recent top draft pick.

"This is a hockey town and everything is about hockey and everybody is talking about hockey, about winning Stanley Cups and stuff, so it's pretty special and I just love being here," Sergachev said after the five-day camp began at the Canadiens practice facility Sunday, two days after he signed a three-year, entry-level contract.

The 6-foot-2, 208-pound native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, had 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League last season. Named the best defenseman in the OHL, the youngest player ever to win that award, Sergachev was No. 8 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for 2016.

Video: Mikhail Sergachev on his arrival in Montreal

He said he uses Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty as player to emulate.

"He's a great player and a great person, too, like humble, so I'm trying to be like him," Sergachev said.

Doughty made the NHL as an 18-year-old, and Sergachev would like to do the same. That includes improving his English skills.

"Everybody's trying to get an interview but that's pretty cool; I like it," Sergachev said. "I like talking to media and I like fans. It's just beginning."

If Sergachev is as dedicated to improving his game as he is about learning English, then his goal of making the Canadiens this fall may not be as unlikely as it seems.

"I am Misha" pretty much summed up the extent of his command of English when he first met Michelle and Brian Reid, his billet family in Windsor.

"I knew some words but I couldn't speak," Sergachev said. "I couldn't make a sentence, you know, when I was trying to speak, and I couldn't say anything, and that was the biggest challenge. Like as an example, I was trying to tell a story to somebody and they couldn't understand me because it didn't make sense."

Clearly he has made a huge effort to improve his ability to understand, and make himself understood, in an unfamiliar environment as quickly as possible.

"It's amazing actually," Michelle Reid said in assessing Sergachev's progress in his second language. "When he came over here to Canada on July 7 [2015] his English was so limited, but he has worked so hard all year."

Brian Reid said that Sergachev's command of the language improved so quickly that early in the season television reporters convinced him his ability to express himself in English was good enough to do interviews.

Sergachev shared the credit with the Reids, Windsor teammates and staff members, and his English tutor, Mitzi Scott.

"She's awesome," Sergachev said. "She's the best teacher I've ever had."

Homesickness set in briefly after fellow Russian Daniil Vertiy was traded by Windsor to North Bay in November. But that soon passed, in part because Sergachev's parents and sister stayed with him as guests of the Reids for nine days during the holidays in December, including New Year's. Sergachev's two families were on hand to celebrate his 18th birthday the day after he was drafted.

"They feel a sense of relief knowing that he's part of our family," Michelle Reid said.

Video: Mikhail Sergachev signs his first NHL contract

Sergachev showed his English chirping game has developed as well when he was asked about Windsor coach Rocky Thompson suggesting that another season in Windsor would be best for his development.

"Yeah, he thinks like that, and he thinks he's a better player in ping pong but he's not," Sergachev said. "You can tell him. He wants me to stay there, obviously, and I think I've got to work on some things, some certain things, and I will work on them during this camp and during the main camp."

But he knows he'll be welcomed back to Windsor if he falls short of his NHL goal.

"If Montreal sends me back that's OK," Sergachev said. "I'll go there and I'll try to help my team win the [Memorial] Cup. Obviously it's better if I stay here and play for Montreal because I want to play as soon as possible."

And that has been his plan all along.

"From Day One it was, 'We're going to make it this year,'" Brian Reid said. "It's amazing how far he's come.

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