MONTREAL -- Forward Jonathan Drouin signed a six-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens after being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday for defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
"When you have the chance to get your hands on a player of Jonathan's talent at a young age, it's very important," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said of the 22-year-old from Ste-Agathe, Quebec. "This opportunity probably hasn't been available to me in five years. Plus, he's a kid from here, so for me it was a decision I had to make.
"Giving up Sergachev was not easy, but acquiring Jonathan was a chance we couldn't pass up."
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Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, could have become a restricted free agent July 1. Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed, but TSN reported it is for $33 million (average annual value of $5.5 million).
"There's obviously a lot of pressure playing in Montreal, everybody knows that," Drouin said. "But for me as a player I think I'd rather have that pressure on myself [here] than some other places. I'm French-Canadian and I'm going to thrive on that pressure. I like that stuff."
Sergachev, 18, was the Canadiens' first-round pick (No. 9) in the 2016 draft. He opened the season in the NHL and played three games with Montreal before being returned to Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League. He played in the Canadiens' regular-season finale April 8.
"We made the trade because we were looking to acquire a defenseman," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We wanted the type of game that Sergachev plays; an offensive defenseman, big, strong, good skater, moves the puck well.
"We were looking for that type of player and we were able to find a fit. That's why the trade was made. The Montreal Canadiens were looking for a forward. That was the forward they targeted from us."
Video: Arpon Basu discusses the Jonathan Drouin trade
The Lightning also receive a conditional second-round pick in the 2018 draft, and the Canadiens receive a conditional sixth-round pick in 2018.
Yzerman said the draft picks will be exchanged only if Sergachev does not play 40 games during the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs combined with the Lightning next season. He said that the second-round pick the Canadiens would send to the Lightning is the Washington Capitals' pick, acquired by Montreal in the June 24 trade that sent center Lars Eller to Washington.
The trade fills a need for each team and helps the Lightning on multiple levels.
Tampa Bay needed a young, puck-moving defenseman, had salary-cap issues that needed to be alleviated, and faced the prospect of losing a good player for nothing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.
Tampa Bay would've had to protect Drouin in the expansion draft, whether he had signed a new contract or was heading to free agency. Trading him for Sergachev helps solve that problem because Sergachev is on an entry-level contract and does not need to be protected in the expansion draft.
Sergachev is a big (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), mobile defenseman who is gifted offensively. He had 43 points (10 goals, 33 assists) in 50 regular-season games for Windsor this season, then helped lead the Spitfires to the Memorial Cup championship with four points (one goal, three assists) in four games.
"We think he has a very bright future," Yzerman said. "He's starting his entry-level contract. [The] expansion draft does have some effect. ...Ultimately our biggest need and our biggest goal was to acquire a puck-moving young defenseman and we were able to do that."
Video: Discussing the Drouin-to-Canadiens trade
The Canadiens came very close to keeping Sergachev at the beginning of the season, but he was often a healthy scratch. On Oct. 31, he was sent back to junior for the season. He had no points and two shots on goal, was plus-1 and averaged 12:07 of ice time in four games.
Montreal was in dire need of more scoring up front, and Drouin has a combination of creativity and speed that's rare in the NHL.
The fact he is a Francophone from Quebec certainly doesn't hurt.
"I'm a hometown guy, so you never really think that day's going to happen where I'll actually be playing for the Canadiens," Drouin said. "It's just really surreal, I'm still kind of in shock that it actually happened."
Drouin's 53 points (21 goals, 32 assists) would have ranked third on the Canadiens this season, one point behind Alexander Radulov. With Radulov due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, adding Drouin provides some degree of insurance for the Canadiens if Bergevin is unable to come to terms with Radulov.
The question in Montreal remains who will play center, because Bergevin and coach Claude Julien said at the end of the season they did not believe Alex Galchenyuk was ready for the responsibility that position entails. Drouin played center in junior with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League but has spent most of his pro career on the wing.
Bergevin said the ultimate decision on where Drouin will play will be up to Julien.
"There's no doubt we looked at that closely," Bergevin said. "But at the end of the day Claude will sit down with Jonathan and a decision will be made of what is best for the organization. But we definitely took that into consideration."