TAMPA — Mikhail Sergachev has spent his time with the Lightning learning under two of the top defensemen in the game in Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh.
Now, the team has shown that it thinks he will become the next great Lightning defenseman to help guide the franchise into the next decade.
On Wednesday the team ensured that its 25-and-under core — Sergachev, center Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak — will remain with the team for the long term, signing all three to eight-year extensions.
When the extensions begin in the 2023-24 season, Sergachev will make an average annual salary of $8.5 million a year, surpassing Hedman as the Lightning’s highest-paid defenseman.
“He has all the tools,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said of Sergachev. “He just turned 24, he can run your power play, he can kill penalties, he’s physical, he’s big, he can skate, he’s skilled. Those guys are hard to find and now to know that he’s going to be part of our team for the next nine seasons, really that’s very comforting to us.”
With McDonagh traded to Nashville, Sergachev will jump into the second left-side defenseman spot behind Hedman.
It is a role Sergachev embraces.
“It just means a lot because I’ve been waiting for more responsibility,” Sergachev said. “I’ve been working for the role to be in the top four. ... I just appreciate the trust, and I’ll do everything in my power to be the best I can be.”
Sergachev has steadily improved over his five seasons with the Lightning and is coming off a postseason in which he played some of his best hockey against top opposition under the bright spotlight of the playoffs.
In the Lightning’s pivotal Game 5 road win over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final, Sergachev helped silence the Madison Square Garden crowd and gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 series lead. He not only scored the tying goal, but his puck on net deflected off Ondrej Palat for the game-winner.
In the Stanley Cup final, Sergachev’s tying goal in Game 1 forced overtime. He played 32:50 of ice time in Game 4 when Cernak went out with an injury and registered seven blocked shots in the Lightning’s overtime loss. In Tampa Bay’s Game 5 win in Colorado, Sergachev had two assists, including setting up the winning goal from the point.
Sergachev was one of just two defensemen in the playoffs to have at least 10 points and a rating of plus-7 or better. The other was Conn Smythe winner Cale Makar.
“I think defensemen take time to reach their full potential,” BriseBois said. “We saw it with Victor Hedman. He’s the best defenseman in the world, but he wasn’t the best defenseman in the world when he was 20, 21, 22 years old. And I think Sergy is just coming into his own. I thought he really stepped up in these playoffs, especially in the finals against Colorado.“
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Now Sergachev will be asked to step into McDonagh’s role, which likely includes increased minutes and a bigger part on the penalty kill. Sergachev said that he learned a lot from playing with McDonagh.
“He’s so calm,” Sergachev said. “Not just on the ice, but in the room, there’s never a situation too big for Mac and he obviously was a huge leader of our team and just the calmness of him kind of blows you away.”
When BriseBois announced the McDonagh trade, he said that Sergachev was “ripe” for an increased role, and Sergachev said that faith boosts his confidence.
“That actually just gives me more motivation and the contract and the words that he said,” Sergachev said. “I kind of want to start practicing already, but I’ll obviously take my time, but it means a lot.”
Sergachev certainly doesn’t lack drive. Back in 2019, he asked BriseBois and coach Jon Cooper what he could do to earn more playing time. They told him he needed to be more physical and his game has grown into a hybrid of Hedman and McDonagh’s.
He still is prone to mistakes, particularly with protecting the puck in his own zone, but Sergachev is the first to know where his game still needs to grow.
“I still make mistakes, everybody does, but I can cut down on some of those,” he said. “There’s a difference between the good players and the great players and it’s consistency. That’s what my dad says all the time. And that’s what I’ve been kind of lacking sometimes. Some stretches I wasn’t myself, but I’ve just kind of got to keep working hard and being more consistent because there’s a lot of trust in me and a huge responsibility.”
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