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Lightning will decide in next week if rookie Mikhail Sergachev starts season in NHL

Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev keeps impressing Lightning veterans.
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev keeps impressing Lightning veterans.
Published Sep. 30, 2017

SUNRISE — Anton Stralman is the most calming and steadying presence the Lightning has on its blue line.

That's what makes the veteran defenseman's praise for his 19-year-old partner so striking.

"I think poise would be a word that kind of sums him up," Stralman said.

Mikhail Sergachev entered the Lightning's training camp with plenty of pressure. He has prove to he's ready to make the jump to the NHL, or else he'll be sent back to juniors. And he's doing in it an immense spotlight, which comes with being part of June's Jonathan Drouin blockbuster trade to Montreal.

From everything Sergachev has shown — and how he has done so — it feels like not only will he be on the Lightning's roster for next week's regular-season opener, he'll be an impactful rookie this season.

"He kind of does it all," veteran defenseman Dan Girardi said. "He's been playing with confidence. That's what he has to do. He has to play like he belongs, not just come in and test the water."

THE TRADE: The Lightning sends Jonathan Drouin to the Canadiens for Mikhail Sergachev.

Sergachev, a smooth-skating 6-foot-3 Russian, has gotten better with each of the five preseason games he has played heading into tonight's finale in Nashville. He has logged at least 20 minutes in four and been a key cog on both special-teams units. The Lightning wanted to give Sergachev a hard look, and that evaluation is expected to continue when the regular season starts Friday against the Panthers.

Tampa Bay has until Sergachev's 10th NHL game to return him to his junior team, Windsor in the Ontario League, before his entry-level contract kicks in (which would begin his NHL service and get him to free agency quicker). He can't play in the AHL because he's too young.

"It could be nine games, 10 games, 40 games, there's no rush," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We haven't decided our lineup for opening night. We'll decide that in a week."

Associate coach Rick Bowness, who has been behind the bench for 2,000 games, said Sergachev has "NHL written all over him" with his size, skating and skill level. The Lightning's evaluation has been primarily about how he has handled the game's intensity and quick decision-making at this level.

BACKGROUND: A few things you should know about Mikhail Sergachev.

Sergachev sometimes has tried to do too much with the puck, and the game has gotten faster on him a few times. But he said that playing so many minutes has allowed him to gain confidence. Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Panthers might have been Sergachev's most complete game, All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman said.

Sergachev entered camp believing he was ready for the NHL, and the preseason has reinforced his belief. But he made Montreal's opening-night roster last season, played in three games and was sent to Windsor.

"Last year I did preseason, but it was a different story," he said. "I feel like I've gotten better since last year, so I feel like I'm more ready."

Sergachev's instincts are strong, allowing him to make the kind of plays that can't be taught, said Lightning TV analyst Brian Engblom, a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman. He's versatile, able to play the left or right side. His work ethic and maturity have impressed teammates.

RELATED: Mikhail Sergachev impresses in his Lightning preseason debut.

"He gets it," Bowness said.

Whether Sergachev gets a spot on the roster will be decided in the next week.

"He's shown why we made that trade for him," Bowness said. "Everything we heard about him was legitimate."

NUTS AND BOLTS: Despite a very impressive camp, 2017 second-round draft pick F Alex Volkov was assigned to AHL Syracuse on Friday. The Lightning's roster is down to 25 healthy players (if you include F Michael Bournival, who is being evaluated). … The lines were switched in practice. Tyler Johnson was with Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn, and Brayden Point was back at center on the third line with Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat.

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