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Mikhail Sergachev to start season with Canadiens

Defenseman was ninth pick of 2016 NHL Draft; Artturi Lehkonen makes opening-night roster

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, the No. 9 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, will begin the season with the Montreal Canadiens.

But he is not ready to allow himself to get too excited.

The Canadiens have the option of keeping Sergachev for nine regular-season games without burning the first year of his three-year, entry level contract. So, until he is in uniform for that 10th game, Sergachev wants to keep things in perspective.

"I'm on my nine game, or something. That thing," Sergachev said after practice Monday. "So, I haven't made the team yet."

No, but Sergachev has certainly impressed the Canadiens.

"I feel he's earned it," captain Max Pacioretty said. "That's been the topic amongst players in the camp. Everyone's just blown away by how good he's been playing. We'll see what he can do in the regular season, but we feel he has the tools to be the same player in the regular season. It's definitely a much different pace and intensity, but we feel he has the tools to do it.

"Now it's up to him to show us."

Sergachev will have more of an opportunity to show he belongs with the announcement Monday that defenseman Jeff Petry will miss the Canadiens season opener at the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN360, MSG-B, RDS) with a lower body injury. He is on injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 6, when he was hurt in Montreal's final preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Petry would be eligible to come off injured reserve before Montreal's second game Saturday at the Ottawa Senators.

Video: Sergachev dishes out a big hit

Sergachev turned 18 on June 25, the day after the first round of the draft. Born in Nizhnekamsk, Russia, he played his first season in North America with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League in 2015-16. He had 57 points (17 goals, 40 assists) in 67 games and was the second rookie to win the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the top defenseman in the OHL.

He was the second defenseman selected in the draft, after Olli Juolevi went to the Vancouver Canucks at No. 5.

Sergachev has grasped the English language so well after such a short time living in Canada, Pacioretty is skeptical that it's only been a year since he left Russia.

"I told him, I don't even believe that," he said. "He hardly has an accent. I couldn't believe it when I heard that. It still sounds a little fishy to me."

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien appreciates Sergachev's high skill level, but said that is not why Montreal decided to keep him to start the season.

"There are a lot of 18-year-old kids who have talent," Therrien said. "With him, what we like is his maturity, he is physically strong, he understands the game. He has many things going for him. But we will take it one game at a time."

Sergachev is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, so his body is NHL-ready. Canadiens assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault, who handles the defensemen, called him "the total package" and said Sergachev already knows how to effectively use his strength at this level.

"I don't think his game is really knocking people over," Daigneault said. "I think Sergachev will do that, but it's not really his game. What we saw thus far in training camp is he's able to take people out just by sheer strength, but he's doing it the smart way. So he has good size, but he's using it properly."

The Canadiens also announced Monday that rookie left wing Artturi Lehkonen, 21, will be on the season-opening roster and that forward Michael McCarron, the No. 25 pick in the 2013 draft, was assigned to St. John's of the American Hockey League.

Lehkonen, a second-round pick (No. 55) in the 2013 draft, has played left wing on Montreal's second line with Tomas Plekanec and Alexander Radulov through training camp. He had two goals and one assist in five preseason games.

"I've got to really step it up and show that I can play in the NHL and also that I can produce there," Lehkonen said.

A clause in Lehkonen's contract allowed him to return to Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League if he did not make the Canadiens, which probably played in his favor because Montreal would want him playing on the smaller, North American ice surface at this point in his career.

He also fills what was a clear hole among Montreal's top six forwards.

"He has shown he can play that role," Therrien said. "He can play on the left, on the right, he's quick, he has good hands, very good hockey sense. His hockey IQ is high; when you explain something to him, he understands it and he executes it."

The Canadiens also placed goaltender Mike Condon on waivers Monday, choosing to keep free agent signing Al Montoya as the backup to starter Carey Price.

In three preseason games, Condon was 0-0-2 with a .855 save percentage and 3.53 goals against average.

Condon took over as the starting goaltender as a rookie after Price sustained a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 25. In 55 games last season, Condon was 21-25-6 with a .903 save percentage and 2.71 GAA.

"Those are tough decisions," Therrien said. "We started camp with an open mind. At the end of the day, we all felt that Al had a better camp than Michael. We had to take a decision on results and we took a decision like that. If you want to be selfish, we're all selfish a little, we hope to keep all our players. But on the human side, we don't want our guys not playing in the NHL. So he's on waivers, and if he gets picked up, good for him because he certainly deserves it."

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