Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning rookie Mikhail Sergachev getting rave reviews

SAN JOSE, Calif. —While rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev darted in all alone on Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on Saturday, Nikita Kucherov — in the opposite circle — made sure to keep his stick on the ice.

Kucherov, 24, like many elite scorers, typically does that, making sure he’s ready to shoot. But his anticipation also had a lot to do with the confident and creative 19-year-old Russian teammate.

"When (Sergachev’s) got the puck, you always wait — something is going to happen," Kucherov said. "He’s that kind of guy."

The resulting highlight-reel assist by Sergachev displayed all the unique qualities that have made him one of the NHL rookie leaders in scoring (12 points) heading into tonight’s game in San Jose. There was Sergachev’s elite ability to recognize when to pinch into the offensive zone, sliding into the left circle. There was his vision, Sergachev saying he spotted Kucherov’s stick out of the corner of his eye at the last second. And there’s the skill, Sergachev executing a slick, fake-shot and cross-zone pass — through traffic — right on the tape of Kucherov, who finished.

"That’s like (Senators Norris Trophy winner) Erik Karlsson," wing Alex Killorn said. "(Victor Hedman) makes that pass a lot."

But Karlsson and Hedman have been in the league for at least a decade. Sergachev has played 19 NHL games. That’s what separates Sergachev too, having the swagger to make such dynamic plays so soon at this level.

"Is brazen a word?" coach Jon Cooper said. "He’s brazen enough to make that play."

"He seems completely unfazed by it," said Fox Sports Sun analyst Brian Engblom, a three-time Stanley Cup winning defenseman. "You’re thinking, ‘Are you sure he’s really just 19?’?"

• • •

Sergachev said his offensive flair was a late-developing trait. He said growing up in Russia, team’s systems aren’t designed for defensemen to be part of the scoring.

"How you get points is on the power play, shoot the puck from the point," Sergachev said. "You don’t go down (into the zone) because nobody is going to back you up."

But one year, when he was 12 or 13, Sergachev played center for a good portion of a season, about 20 games. The team didn’t have enough forwards, so it asked Sergachev to move up front. "I said, ‘Why not?’?"

It ended up being a key moment in the development for Sergachev, who had a blast. And he was successful. "I got some confidence offensively," he said. "I scored a lot of goals, had a good shot. Before I turned 14, I didn’t really think about it. It was just defense."

Sergachev said his final year in Moscow, his entire team was encouraged to contribute offensively. And that led into Sergachev’s blossoming with Windsor (Ontario Hockey League), racking up 57 points (17 goals, 40 assists) in 67 games in his first year in North America.

"Every time you watched him play, you’re like, ‘Who is this guy?’ said TSN director of scouting Craig Button, a former NHL GM. "I say all the time, good players grab your eyes. And he grabs your eyes from the first time you see him."

• • •

Sergachev said he’ll mostly keep his eye on the team’s forwards, trying to mimic some of their moves.

He’ll notice how they play (with and without the puck), how shifty they are, the way they use head fakes. As Kucherov said, Sergachev is a rare defenseman who will be daring enough dangle the puck at the blueline.

Sergachev looked like a forward on some of his goals this season. You saw it when Sergachev darted into the high slot against Pittsburgh Oct. 21, smacking his stick on the ice, calling for a pass from captain Steven Stamkos. There was Sergachev’s quick snap wrist shot from his knees on a goal against Carolina Oct. 24. On Sergachev’s second career goal, he slipped into the high slot, took a pass from Kucherov and picked his corner, ripping a wrist shot over Bobrovsky’s shoulder.

You have to think Bobrovsky was thinking about that when Sergachev approached him in Saturday’s first period, all alone in the left circle. Bobrovsky came out of the crease to challenge. Sergachev didn’t think he had a good option to shoot, or go to his backhand. "I’m not ‘Kuch,’?" he quipped.

But Sergachev saw Kucherov, making a quick fake shot/pass. "He faked just about everybody out," assistant Todd Richards said.

"He can actually see that play," Cooper said. "Not a lot of guys can."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

TAMPA — The Lightning will open its seven-game preseason schedule at home with a 7:30 p.m.  game Sept. 18 against the Carolina Hurricane, the team announced Thursday.That is one of three home games the Lightning will play in a preseason sc...
Published: 06/14/18
Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Sixteen months after acquiring Peter Budaj from the Kings, the Lightning today returned the veteran goaltender to Los Angeles.The Lightning traded Budaj for forward Andy Andreoff, general manager Steve Yzerman announced in a news release.Andreoff, 27...
Published: 06/13/18
Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

This past season didn't end the way Lightning fans might have hoped, but that's no reason to lose hope.In fact, oddsmakers are more bullish on Tampa Bay than any team in the NHL for next season.According to at least one sports betting site, the ...
Published: 06/08/18
Washington has a new hero. His name is Devante Smith-Pelly

Washington has a new hero. His name is Devante Smith-Pelly

LAS VEGAS — Before Devante Smith-Pelly could relax or breathe or even start thinking about his game-tying goal, he had to start moving his feet.The period of recall began midway through the third period Thursday night, when the Capitals trailed, 3-2....
Published: 06/08/18
Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup wait is finally over. Who has waited longer?

Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup wait is finally over. Who has waited longer?

The Washington Capitals won the first Stanley Cup title in the franchise's 43-year history Thursday night in Las Vegas.And still the St. Louis Blues and their fans wait. The Blues marked their 50th NHL season this year; 50 years without a Cup.He...
Published: 06/08/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What could have been for the Lightning

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What could have been for the Lightning

As the Washington Capitals celebrate their first Stanley Cup championship, Rick Stroud reflects on what could have been for the Lightning, which came within a victory of eliminating Washington in the conference final.Plus, the Rays lose in ...
Published: 06/08/18
Capitals win first Stanley Cup, eliminate Golden Knights in 5

Capitals win first Stanley Cup, eliminate Golden Knights in 5

LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals' joyous celebration. And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put ...
Published: 06/07/18
Updated: 06/08/18
Here’s what I remember about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup. How about you?

Here’s what I remember about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup. How about you?

You might not recognize the name, but my words were probably some of the first you read after the Lightning won its first – and, so far, only — Stanley Cup 14 years ago today.In the days before social media, email newsletters and push not...
Published: 06/07/18
The Lightning Effect on the Stanley Cup is about to strike again

The Lightning Effect on the Stanley Cup is about to strike again

Call it the Lightning effect.The Washington Capitals are a win away from ending years of frustration and winning their first Stanley Cup.As if we doubted them.RELATED: More Lightning coverageAlex Ovechkin and his Caps teammates have the Tampa Bay Lig...
Published: 06/05/18
Capitals on verge of Stanley Cup after blowing out Golden Knights in Game 4

Capitals on verge of Stanley Cup after blowing out Golden Knights in Game 4

WASHINGTON — Evgeny Kuznetsov smiled about getting four assists. He tried not to smile too much at the thought of being one win away from the Stanley Cup. With Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby leading the way, the Washington Capitals are on the...
Published: 06/05/18