DALLAS—Mikhail Sergachev is an offensive player.
Don't be fooled by the Lightning defenseman's 17 points, or the fact that he played 39 games before scoring his first goal this season. He has an offensive mind.
Look no further than the assist he recorded in the team's 5-3 victory against Buffalo on Saturday (Jan. 12). He made a move that only few players can execute because they lack the footwork, and more importantly, the vision.
Victor Hedman slid the puck over to Sergachev, cycling at the blue line, and Sergachev wound up to take the one-timer. He set his entire body, including his feet, to take the shot, but then realized Sabres center Vladimir Sobotka is too close for him to get the shot off.
Remarkably, he managed to continue with the fake, change his entire body's position, carry the puck toward the goal and then feed it to Palat in front of the net.
"I wouldn't do that when I was 20, I still won't do that because it's not part of my game," Hedman said. "But he's so good at opening up his hips and making that fake."
On the television broadcast, Lightning analyst and former NHL player Brian Engblom told viewers to watch Sergachev's feet. Facing away from the wing he will skate down, Sergachev executed a tough crossover while protecting the puck to then backhand it to Palat.
"His hands are one thing, but to have the dexterity with his feet to dance his way to the outside," Engblom said. "That is really hard to do and stay out of trouble."
It's not the first nice play Sergachev has made recently, either. He has five points (a goal and four assists) in his last five games. In four of those plays, he was in on the rush. The five-game string of success extends beyond his first goal of the season against San Jose on Jan. 5, so though he said that first goal gave him confidence, it didn't spark a strategic change in his play.
"You can tell, when he has the puck on his stick, and he has that confidence, to carry and protect it and use his size – sometimes he doesn't realize how big he is – he can do a lot of damage," Steven Stamkos said.
Stamkos referenced Sergachev's size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) three times in four sentences. It's definitely an element that helps Sergachev get down low and protect the puck. To Sergachev, it's about his skating.
"I started skating more," he said. "I get the puck, I start skating, then I look for opportunities to pass it. Before I would pass it right away."
Overall, coach Jon Cooper sees a "night and day" difference from last year to this year. Sure, Sergachev scored more last year, but his game is better this year. Cooper managed Sergachev's minutes in 2017-18, but that's no longer a concern.
Sergachev, the youngest Lightning player at 20 years old, had to learn more about the game, about where to be, how plays come together, what to expect. Now, Hedman compares Sergachev's vision to Nikita Kucherov's.
"Guess he's learning from the best in Kuch," Hedman said. "Those Russians have very good vision and are really good with their skates. They're fun to watch."
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at [email protected] Follow her @dianacnearhos.