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All-Stars to Mikhail Sergachev: Soak in the knowledge while scratched

Mikhail Sergachev of the Tampa Bay Lightning and David Kampf of the Chicago Blackhawks battle for the puck in front of the Lightning net at the United Center on Jan. 22 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Mikhail Sergachev of the Tampa Bay Lightning and David Kampf of the Chicago Blackhawks battle for the puck in front of the Lightning net at the United Center on Jan. 22 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Published Jan. 29, 2018
Updated Jan. 29, 2018

TAMPA — When the Lightning returns from the All-Star break Tuesday in Winnipeg, it'll be interesting to see if Mikhail Sergachev is back in the lineup.

Sergachev, 19, has been a healthy scratch the past two games, partly due to some struggles and a bad unsportsmanlike penalty Jan. 22 in Chicago.

But while the benching might be humbling now, it could end up being a blessing in disguise for the blossoming young defenseman.

Just ask several of this year's All-Stars, who have been through it.

"Anytime you get healthy scratched, it doesn't feel well," said Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin. "But it's important when you're a young guy just to look at all the positives.

"I talked to my coach when I was getting scratched, he's like, 'Listen, man, keep working on getting better, watch the game and try to learn. Try to make the most of it.' And I think it definitely helped me in the long run."

How? Scratched players usually watch the game from a different angle, either in the press box or on TV in the dressing room. The new perspective is a great learning tool, whether it means picking up an opponent's tendencies or digesting coaching points.

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"You see the game in a different light," said Stars forward Tyler Seguin, often a scratch his rookie year with the Bruins. "It looks slower than it feels. You can dissect certain things, see things coaches talk about. The game is so fast, you don't realize. When you're upstairs, you take it all in."

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, a five-time All-Star, went through this his rookie season getting scratched by then-coach Rick Tocchet once every four or five games. Stamkos would take notes in the press box and have a "classroom session" with assistant Wes Walz the next day, watching video.

Stamkos, the No. 1 pick that year, has also called it a "wakeup call."

Sergachev, the No. 9 overall pick in 2016, had been off to a tremendous start in his first full pro season, with 27 points (eight goals) in his first 47 games.

"It's humbling because the media builds you up, especially when you're a high draft pick and you always have confidence," Seguin said. "But maybe it's sometimes a little bit too high. (Getting scratched) puts you in your spot and lets you know this is also a business, and you've got to earn your keep. It's not just given to you."

There may not be a more humbling position in the NHL than a defenseman. It's why many believe it takes around 200 games for a defenseman to find his footing in the league. Sergachev has played just 51.

"You play your first 20, 25, 30 games and it's all based on adrenaline of making it into the league," said Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski. "It gets hard. It's a long season of playing the best players in the world every single night as a defenseman and trying to shut them down. It gets hard. It gets tiring. It's about finding a way not to be tired."

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How do you get through it?

"It's just a mentality," Werenski said. "(Coach John Tortorella), he'd always tell me, 'You're not tired, you just think you're tired.' It's kind of a Torts quote, but it's true. If you tell yourself you're tired, you're going to be tired. If you tell yourself you're not, you're not. You don't have to feel great every night, but it's about finding a way to work through it and be at your best when you can."

Sergachev said one benefit of getting scratched is having more practice. He stayed an extra half hour after each morning skate on the days he sat, trying to work through his struggles (minus-5 in his last seven games).

"I'm just trying to work my way out of it," Sergachev said.

And most everyone, from Lightning coaches and teammates to opponents, believe Sergachev will.

"He's an unreal player," Hanifin said. "He's got a great shot, he can skate really well. He finds spots in the offensive zone to jump in. He's definitely a smart player."

Added Werenski: "(Sergachev has) handled himself tremendously this year."

Even while he sits.

NOTE: G Louis Domingue was recalled from AHL Syracuse after getting in work during the All-Star break.

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Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.