BRANDON — Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev has taken on a bit of a mentoring role with the Lightning during training camp, offering a suggestion or two to some of the junior-level players.
But don’t call him a veteran.
Sergachev spent time giving tips to defenseman Roman Schmidt, 18, a third-round draft pick in July who was making his training camp debut, on deke moves at the blue line after noticing Schmidt make one during practice.
“I see him do it, so I like that kind of stuff, so we talked about it,” Sergachev said. “But I’m really not a (veteran). I think I’m still the youngest guy on the team.”
Sergachev is 23. It’s easy to forget about his youth given that he’s entering his fifth full season with the Lightning, has two Stanley Cups on his resume and has flourished into one of the game’s top young all-around defensemen.
“I think on most teams he might be (considered a veteran), but on this team he is still a kid,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s done a lot of great things in this league at such a young age, but you look at our team now, I feel like our core is really young still. But we’ve just been together so long. I think it feels like we’ve got more veteran status than we do.
“But, nah, ‘Sergy’ (is) still a kid to me.”
Sergachev came to Tampa Bay from Montreal in the June 2017 trade that sent Jonathan Drouin to the Canadiens. A first-round draft pick (ninth overall) of the Canadiens in 2016, he had a reputation as an offensive-minded defenseman. But buying into the Lightning’s commitment to defense has made him a great player on a team full of them.
Last season Sergachev ranked fourth on the team in point shares — a statistic that measures a player’s contribution to the team’s success in points, similar to win shares in baseball — behind Andrei Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point, in part because of his strong defensive game.
Each season Sergachev has earned a larger role. He averaged a career-high 21:58 of ice time last season and had an increased role on the power play and the penalty kill.
But he isn’t nearly satisfied, wanting to improve his offensive game. In last season’s shortened 56-game schedule, he scored just four goals after averaging eight over his first three full seasons.
Make no mistake, Sergachev was an instrumental part of the offense, and the effectiveness of his rocket shot from the point isn’t reflected in his scoring totals. Plus, with 30 points, he was on pace to set a career high had the Lightning played an 82-game regular season.
“Yeah, it’s offense now,” Sergachev said. “It’s been defense the past couple years now. But really, it’s consistency. I’ll try to play all the games as consistent as possible, offensively and defensively. I’ll just kind of bring everything to the table as I always try to do, but I’ve got to be even more focused now.”
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Sergachev did have a career-low 3.7 shooting percentage, so he concentrated on improving his accuracy during the short offseason.
“I didn’t score a lot of goals last year,” he said. “So I was working on my shot. … That’s one area I was trying to work on — scores and angles — as much as possible to help the team win.”
Cooper laughed when told about Sergachev’s desire to score more. He thinks the young defenseman is progressing just as he should.
“Sergachev has been such an integral part of our success, and a big portion of that is how he’s played in the defensive zone,” Cooper said. “And if there was a hole in his game coming in, it was in the defensive zone, and he’s worked his tail off to become, in my book, an elite defenseman in this league. But it’s because you can play the whole 200 feet.
“Is this scoring and stuff going to come eventually? Yes, it will. So I’m not worried about that. It’s his two-way game in both ends of the ice, and he keeps getting better and better. He’s a big-time defenseman in this league now, but it’s hard because they all want the points, and I get it. But I’m not worried. I love his progression.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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