For 19 year old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, the past couple of months have been a whirlwind. After being acquired by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a June trade, the young blueliner has endured rookie camp, training camp, preseason, and now nine regular season games. Once he plays 10, he's no longer on a tryout, thus burning the first year of his deal.
That brings us to decision time for Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and the coaching staff. Should Sergachev remain in the NHL or does he need a little more seasoning in juniors?
A decision not to be taken lightly, Yzerman has a tough call to make. One made harder by the rookie's performance early on this season. He has shown poise and maturity beyond his years, while also contributing offensively to the Lightning's scorching hot 7-1-1 start. His eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in nine games rank him fifth on the team, ahead of all other defenseman. That includes Norris Trophy favorite Victor Hedman.
Paired with veteran Anton Stralman has surely helped, but Sergachev has held his own against opponents top lines. The plus-3 rating he carries is an indication of how far he's come in a short period of time.
He's also getting a chance on the top power play unit, a sign the coaches trust him in most situations. For those who are unaware, that unit is made up of the two current NHL scoring leaders in Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. You have to earn the chance to play alongside two top talents in this league, something Sergachev has done to this point.
Will there be a learning curve? Yes. Every young player goes through one. Take Hedman for example. The second overall pick in 2009 didn't develop into the elite, shutdown guy he is today until recently. Sergachev will probably take a similar path, making it imperative that the team be patient. Opponents will adjust their game, making it likely that mistakes will be made. That's a risk the Lightning should be willing to take, especially after seeing first hand the difference he can make with the shot he possesses.
Is he going to stick around with the Lightning? While unknown, Sergachev has certainly proven himself capable of handling the NHL. Now, all eyes turn to Yzerman. Is this the beginning of a long career or does Sergachev have more to learn at the junior level? Stay tuned. We'll have an answer by Tuesday, if not before.
For more about Sergachev on Raw Charge, take a look at Loserpoints' "Should he stay or go?" decision tree.