It always happens whenever there’s a big trade. A player that has some amount of popularity is traded for a prospect that no one from the acquiring team knows about unless the fan is a big prospect watcher. There is instant uncertainty when you remove a player that is a known quantity for a player that is a complete unknown. That’s exactly what has happened with Tampa Bay Lightning’s trade of Jonathan Drouin for former Montreal Canadien Mikhail Sergachev.
Just a quick look around at Lightning Twitter shows that in abundance. A common theme I’ve noticed is that a number of people that had personal issues with Drouin because of his quitting on the team during the 2015-16 season or uncertainties about his performance of a whole are generally ok with the trade. People that loved what he could do and were mesmerized by his puck handling ability generally hate the deal.
For me, I knew enough about Sergachev to be on the happy side of the trade no matter what my feelings were about Drouin. I knew that Drouin was going to command a lot of money and I knew that Sergachev came with high marks of his own. To help the rest of you get to know Sergachev, I’ve compiled scouting reports from around the internet.
Sergachev is a big body defenceman, but his size is far from the only thing that stands out. He is an exceptional skater, particularly for a player that only picked up the game as a nine-year-old in Russia. Very smooth stride, and explosive acceleration that allows him to get to top speed in a couple of steps. His lateral movement is also excellent; he is a very polished skater, and a rare combination of size and fluid movement.
Terms like "world class" have been used to describe his skating. Once he gets going he's very hard to stop, and he has surprisingly good hands for a player of his size as well. And he rarely utilizes the dump-in. If he sees a lane, he will challenge opposing defenders, and has the speed and puck skills to beat them. The complete package for getting the puck into the offensive zone.
He is also a great puck mover. One of the things that really stands out is his patience with the puck. He always looks for the right play, and almost never panics to the point of banging it off the boards or the glass. When he can't use his skating, he has great vision and passing to find his teammates and get the puck moving up ice.
He played in all situations for the Spitfires, taking significant power play and penalty kill time. Because he excels at both ends of the ice, he is very versatile. He can quarterback a power play, keep forwards to the outside on the kill, and clogs up shooting lanes.
Mikhail Sergachev can do it all in both ends of the rink. He is good with the puck on his stick, showing stickhandling poise and great passing skill. He effectively starts the rush with good breakout passes, and can also break down the defence with good passes on the power play. He has high-end hockey IQ, and makes the smart play with the puck on his stick. Sergachev has a strong slap shot and an effective wrist shot, both of which he can use to score from the blueline. He keeps the puck low and gets it on net, even through heavy traffic, allowing his teammates to set-up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds. Sergachev’s offensive game is among the best of any blueliner in this draft class, and he could be a power play quarterback in the NHL in just a few short years.
Sergachev is a very good skater. He has the speed and acceleration necessary to join the rush and create offence in transition, as well as recover defensively if he gets caught. His excellent agility allows him to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Sergachev shows good strength on the puck and wins battles along the boards, and in front of the net due to his strong balance and good lower body strength. He will need to get even stronger going forward though, if he is to play a similar style of game against men.
Jeff Marek’s Take: Plays with zero panic leading to one scout telling me “he skates like he’s in a rocking chair.” Has four different kinds of shots from the point and many feel he’s the class of all blueliners this year. This guy gets on the game sheet in a positive way almost every night.
Sergachev is defined by his three-zone play, confidence, and creativity with the puck. But perhaps his best asset is how calm he is, even when facing significant pressure.
He is a very controlled player, especially when he needs to make split-second decisions, and is patient when he needs to drive the puck up ice, make a breakout pass, or maintain puck possession.
He’s a fairly physical (and smart) player too. The tenacious Russian is very aggressive and consistently uses his big frame to angle off opponents and win puck battles.
He has a big shot from the point that can be difficult for opposing goaltenders, which helps create rebounds for his teammates as well. He’s most often been compared to Zach Werenski, the eighth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and captain of Team USA’s World Junior Championship team. Werenski played seven games at the end of the AHL season this past year, after finishing up at the University of Michigan as a point-per-game player.
Sergachev demonstrated improved defensive acumen, particularly with regard to his slot protection. He’s more aggressive on forwards now, and also gets his stick involved. His man-to-man coverage is noticeably better, and he has become quite the penalty killer for Windsor.
Defensively, there are still concerns. For example, he doesn’t always track the puck well, which he reacts to by stopping, making him useless. (This is a problem that all three NHL draft picks on the Spits’ blue line have.) But it’s important to remember: Sergachev is highly effective because he spends a huge portion of his time attacking, and then uses aggressive gap control that often begins in the opposition’s offensive zone to obtain possession as soon as possible.
He attained this growth while his shooting percentage was cut by nearly half, to a slightly-above-average rate. A 5.81% conversion rate seems a bit low for a player with an innate ability to improve his shooting location and one of the best shots in all of junior hockey. Essentially, he wasn’t as lucky as last season, and still posted a season of positive growth.
Pronman ranked Sergachev 11th on this list and the 2nd defenseman overall.
Sergachev got a small cup of coffee with the Habs this season but was clearly not quite ready for the NHL. He has been pretty good, albeit not amazing, in both the OHL and at the World Juniors, but he's still tracking to get a roster spot in Montreal next season. His skating is ridiculous for a big defenseman, and I've been very impressed by how calmly and efficiently he has been moving the puck this season. I also like that his defensive game seems a little sharper. Bottom line: His game is about offense, and he excels at moving with the puck up the ice and being aggressive.