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Sergachev hoping to stick with Lightning

Rookie defenseman, acquired in trade for Drouin, makes opening night roster

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com Senior Writer

TAMPA, Fla. -- Mikhail Sergachev survived the final cuts to make the Tampa Bay Lightning's opening night roster. The question is how long will the 19-year-old rookie defenseman stay in the NHL this season.

It will be permanently if Sergachev continues along his current path.

"It's my goal to make the team and all the guys around try to help me," Sergachev said on Monday. "If I have a goal I'm going to do everything to make it there."

The Lightning kept eight defensemen for their opening night roster, so it's still not clear if Sergachev will be in the lineup when they open the season against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; SUN, FS-F, NHL.TV). 

However, Sergachev has been skating in a top-four role with Anton Stralman as his partner, an indication that Lightning coach Jon Cooper could use him immediately even if he won't say so publicly just yet.

"He's been a great fit for us, but you can't sit here and throw expectations on the poor kid," Cooper said. "He's 19 years old, but he's put himself in position to be with our team right now and that's really good for him. It shows his talent level and how he's worked for it."

The Lightning have nine games to give Sergachev a pseudo tryout. If he plays 10 games, this season will count as the first year of his three-year entry-level contract. If he plays in 40 games, the Lightning won't receive the 2018 conditional second-round draft pick from the Montreal Canadiens that was part of the trade to acquire him on June 15.

"I don't even think about that," Cooper said.

Sergachev went through a similar process last season with the Canadiens, who got center Jonathan Drouin and a 2018 sixth-round pick from Tampa Bay in the trade. Sergachev, the No. 9 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, played in four games with Montreal last season and did not have a point before he was returned to the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. 

He had 43 points (10 goals, 33 assists) in 50 games with Windsor during the OHL season and helped them win the Memorial Cup with four points (one goal, three assists) in four games.

Sergachev, who isn't yet eligible to play in the American Hockey League, has no plans on returning to Windsor or going anywhere near junior hockey again.

"No matter where I was this year [Montreal or Tampa Bay] it was my goal [to make the NHL]," Sergachev said. "I knew I achieved some things in the OHL. We won a Memorial Cup. I thought I played at a good level. I thought I had nothing left to do there, nothing left to prove there."

The last part of that quote is an example of Sergachev's swagger, which was brought up unsolicited by Cooper and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos on Monday.

"You know, he definitely doesn't lack confidence," Stamkos said. "He's a guy that has come in and said he's wanted to make the team since Day 1. That's a great attitude to have, especially as a young guy."

Cooper said he has to guard against coaching the swagger out of Sergachev, who he says plays his best when he uses it to his advantage.

"You look at some of the mistakes he's made [in the preseason], he's not afraid," Cooper said. "He's not afraid to pull the puck along the lines. At times, it gets him in trouble. The speed of the League is obviously a little bit different than junior, but he's got enough swag to try that stuff. You want that in guys. You want them to be able to say, 'Hey, I can do this.' Naturally, you're going to get burned a few times and if it continues then you know then you have to sit him down, but I don't want to pull that away from a kid.

"I want to let the kid go and grow, but he's got to fall in line with our standard and our values and how we do things. He's working at that and that's what I really like about him. The kid's got talent."

Sergachev understands he was part of a significant offseason trade that involved a player, Drouin, who was once considered a future cornerstone player in Tampa Bay. He also knows that Drouin has since signed a six-year, $33 million contract with Montreal and will start the season as the Canadiens' No. 1 center.

It matters little to him, though, even if he understands there will be comparisons between him and Drouin as people dissect the trade and determine which team got the better of the deal. 

"I don't put a lot of pressure on myself because I got traded here or [because] I've got to prove to everyone that I'm not worse than Drouin or whatever," Sergachev said. "I'm just here to play hockey, to try to make the team, to try to help the team win. That's what I'm here for. I'm not here for the Drouin [comparisons]."

The first part is over. He made the team. Soon enough he'll get a chance to prove he deserves to be here permanently.

"He's ahead of the curve of where most players are his age," Cooper said.

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