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Mikhail Sergachev begins real Lightning audition vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) on the ice during hockey training camp in preparation for the 2017-2018 season in Brandon Friday morning (09/15/17). DIRK SHADD   |   Times  

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) on the ice during hockey training camp in preparation for the 2017-2018 season in Brandon Friday morning (09/15/17). DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Sep. 21, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. — Mikhail Sergachev said he was super nervous early in Wednesday's exhibition debut with the Lightning.

"I was shaky," he said.

You can't blame him. The defenseman will have the spotlight on him all preseason, especially after being the centerpiece of the Jonathan Drouin blockbuster deal with Montreal in June. Whether Sergachev makes the team out of camp, as opposed to going back to juniors, is the biggest story line not involving Steven Stamkos' right knee.

But Sergachev is highly touted for a reason; he was the Canadiens' ninth overall draft pick in 2016. So the Lightning coaches got in Sergachev's ear on the bench to calm him Wednesday. "They told me, 'Just play your game,' " Sergachev.

Boy, did he. In the Lightning's 4-3 win over the Hurricanes at the PNC Center, he scored and was plus-3 in a team-high 22:16. He played in all situations, nearly three minutes each on the penalty kill and the power play.

"I thought he did extremely well," coach Jon Cooper said. "If he was nervous, he didn't show it too much. He looked pretty poised with the puck."

Sergachev felt better by the second period, when he flashed his offensive instincts and skill. He darted into the left circle, creating a passing lane for Brayden Point, who was behind the net. Sergachev one-timed the pass. "He wasted no time," Point

Sergachev's audition has just begun. But from the sound of it, it'd be surprising if he wasn't on the Lightning roster for the Oct. 6 opener against Florida.

"You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he's got NHL written all over him," said Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness, a veteran of 2,000 games behind the bench. "Now we've got to give him experience. How much can he handle?"

That's ultimately what the Lightning hopes to find out in the preseason games. General manager Steve Yzerman said Sergachev has the size, strength, skating ability and skill to play in the NHL today. But until Sergachev shows that against NHL competition — he played only four games for the Canadiens last season — Tampa Bay won't know if he's ready.

The key is handling the pace, especially mentally. Sergachev said he improved greatly in making better, quicker decisions last season by his fourth game with Montreal. He had mistakes Wednesday but benefited from a larger role.

"It's way different (from last year)," he said. "There, I played, like, 10 minutes and couldn't do anything. I'd have 5-on-5, 20-second shifts. Here, I had time to show what I can do and what I'm capable of doing."

(Sergachev played between 8:30 and 12 minutes in three of his four games with Montreal. He played 17:13 in the final one.)

Sergachev has impressed everyone in his first week in training camp. Veterans can see his high-level skill and notice his work ethic and maturity.

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"He's bold. His whole game is bold enough to play," said Lightning color analyst Brian Engblom, a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman with Montreal. "But we don't know until he goes up against Sidney Crosby the first time. It's adjusting to how good these guys are. Training camp is what it is. He's still playing against a bunch of his peers. You weed out all those guys, you put in Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Patrick) Kane, Jonathan (Toews), you've got to feel that. You've got to play one-on-one, get beat out of the corner, have them kind of disappear from the radar for a second. All of a sudden, they're behind you. Those are the kind of things you find (out about) how good, how smart, and how strong (you are). You can watch all the video you want; you've got to feel it. "

Defenseman Victor Hedman can relate. Before becoming an All-Star and a Norris Trophy finalist, he had to find his way in his first few camps. And he did it with the scrutiny of being the No. 2 overall pick in 2009.

"Everyone is different. (Sergachev) could figure it out right away. You never know," Hedman said. "You go (to camp) to learn, and hopefully the veteran guys on the team can help lead the way. It's about not putting too much pressure on yourself.

"I know it's hard. You put a lot of pressure on yourself whenever you're young and trying to make the team."

GAME NOTES: Adam Erne scored his second goal in as many games. … Goalie Peter Budaj was sharp with 18 saves, including a breakaway and 2-on-1. Boris Katchouk and Tye McGinn also scored.

ROSTER MOVES: Forward Taylor Raddysh was in the first round of six cuts, getting sent to juniors (OHL Erie). Alexey Lipanov (OHL Barrie), Christopher Paquette (OHL Peterborough) and Oleg Sosunov (WHL Moose Jaw) were reassigned. Kevin Hancock and Joseph Raaymakers were released from their tryouts.

Contact Joe Smith at jsmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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