RALEIGH, N.C.— Lightning rookie D Mikhail Sergachev has earned the right to stick around for a while.
If there were any lingering doubt, coach Jon Cooper made it clear Tuesday before Tampa Bay’s game at Carolina: The 19-year-old isn’t going anywhere, playing in his 10th game to trigger the first year of his entry-level contract.
"You’re looking for, ‘Has there been improvement? Is he adapting to the game, the speed of the game, the physicality?’ He’s done all that," Cooper said after the morning skate. "When you watch a player like that continue to improve, especially at a young age, looking at the ceiling he has, which is really high right now, it’s pretty hard to make a change. He’s had a positive impact on our team. He’s a part of a team, and that’s how it’s going to be moving forward."
Sergachev continued his hot streak Tuesday with a goal in the second period, his fourth in the past three games. He just missed another goal late in the second, with a high shot going off the shoulder of Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling.
The Lightning could have sent Sergachev to juniors to avoid his contract starting. But his progress and impact — he was acquired from Montreal this summer in the trade for Jonathan Drouin — has been clear, especially in the past week.
Sergachev said he’s glad to be staying at the NHL level but added he will continue to play as if his future isn’t assured, making a case each game to stay up with the Lightning.
"I’m so happy to be here, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stay for the whole year," Sergachev said. "So I’m just thinking about the next game every time. It’s a new day for me. I have to improve every day, have to learn."
Having cleared his 10th game, the next mark to pass is 40 games; if he plays that many for the Lightning, the Canadiens no longer will send Tampa Bay the conditional second-round draft pick that was also part of the trade for Drouin.
RW J.T. Brown was back on the ice, playing for only the second time this season and the first time since the opening weekend.
Cooper had said he didn’t want to have any players "stapled to the bench," but the coach was hesitant to change his lineup much as well as the team has been playing.
Raleigh is special to Brown, whose father, Ted, was born in North Carolina and played football at N.C. State before an eight-year career as a running back with the Vikings.
Nuts and Bolts
With Brown playing, C Gabriel Dumont was a healthy scratch, as was D Slater Koekkoek. C Cedric Paquette missed a third straight game with an upper-body injury. … The Lightning won’t return to Raleigh until the final game of the regular season on April 7. The teams play in Tampa on Jan. 9 as well.