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  1. Lightning

Lightning gives biggest sign yet that Mikhail Sergachev is here to stay

TAMPA — More and more, it appears Mikhail Sergachev is sticking with the Lightning for good.

The 19-year-old rookie defenseman got another vote of confidence recently, the team telling him it was okay for him to look for an apartment in Tampa. Sergachev is moving out of the hotel he has lived in since training camp into a two-bedroom spot downtown.

You wouldn't think the Lightning would tell Sergachev to sign a lease if it had plans to send him back to his junior team in Windsor, Ontario, in a few months.

"Obviously I like it, because staying in the hotel for two months is hard," Sergachev said. "When you have your own apartment, it's going to be different for me because I've never lived by myself. I think it's fun."

Sergachev deserves to stay, having quickly established himself as one of the Lightning's top-six defensemen. He has 10 points in his first 12 games, including four goals. The decision to keep Sergachev in the NHL after nine games (starting his entry-level contract) was a no-brainer. The tougher one is when Sergachev reaches 40 games; at that point, the Lightning would forfeit the conditional second-round draft pick Montreal would give it as part of the June Jonathan Drouin trade that brought Sergachev here. Plus, 40 games is when the clock really starts ticking for Sergachev to get closer to free agency.

Second-round picks are valuable, especially in making moves at the trade deadline. And keeping Sergachev on his affordable entry-level deal for as long as Tampa Bay can is valuable in the salary cap world. But the bottom line is Sergachev is holding his own in the top four on a Stanley Cup contender. Keeping him is best for his development and gives the Lightning the best chance to win.

"He's a fast learner, I'll tell you that," coach Jon Cooper said. "Looking at his first preseason game to his first regular-season game to now, just his comfort level with the league. … By no means is it perfect. But just watching him develop in a short period of time, he's a confident kid.

"Everybody makes a big deal about him passing the nine-game mark. But he's deserved it. He deserves to be here."

Sergachev is more comfortable not only on the ice but off it, too. He has explored Tampa and made trips to Universal Orlando and Busch Gardens. He has played Topgolf in Brandon and eaten at Bern's, digging the dessert room.

After Saturday's game against the Ducks, Sergachev took a stroll around the University of Tampa campus, marveling at the architecture. "Looks like in Harry Potter," he quipped.

Sergachev, who lived with a host family in Windsor after first moving to North America, is excited for the challenges of having his own pad. His parents plan to visit from Russia. After all, he has two bedrooms.

Sergachev has found a home. And that's a good thing — for him, and Tampa Bay.

SLAP SHOTS: Congrats to wing Ryan Callahan and wife Kyla on Friday's birth of their third child, a boy named Dominick Robert Callahan. … Former Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison, picked by Vegas in June's expansion draft, was put on waivers Friday and cleared. Could his availability via trade hurt Tampa Bay if it's trying to move a defenseman like Andrej Sustr? The Lightning is trying to get Sustr and Slater Koekkoek playing time, which is tough with eight defensemen. But it should know what it has in Sustr after 279 career games. It needs to figure out what Koekkoek can be in this make-or-break year for the 2012 first-round pick. … Strongly recommend Behind the Bench, a book by Craig Custance of The Athletic website, which offers a deep dive into the minds of the best NHL coaches. Lightning fans will enjoy the chapter on John Tortorella and Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. … J.T. Brown, as promised, participated in his first ride-along with the Tampa Police Department on Saturday night. … Lots of creative costumes at the Lightning's team Halloween party, including Nikita Kucherov in a Top Gun jumpsuit and Alex Killorn (Bjorn Borg) and Sustr (Andre Agassi) the "legends of the clay." But hearing that Anton Stralman killed it as "Dr. Evil" from the Austin Powers movies.

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

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