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Tampa Bay Lightning 2019 Top 25 Under 25 #2: Mikhail Sergachev is already a top four defensemen

The young defender looks to bounce back from a lackluster offensive season.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Columbus Blue Jackets at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to talk about our favorite Russian defenseman—Mikhail Sergachev. The player acquired from the Jonathan Drouin trade during the 2017 offseason has been quite impressive for the Tampa Bay Lightning thus far. He hasn’t been the bona-fide superstar some were saying when the Lightning traded for him, but make no mistake, Sergachev has been very good.

After an impressive rookie season (40 points), Sergachev took a small step backwards offensively during his sophomore campaign (32 points), but was given a more defensive role as the season progressed. He struggled at times during the first half of the season, but improved as the season wore on. The question entering last season was, “can Sergachev become a top four guy?” By the time the Lightning finished their cataclysmic collapse against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sergachev was one of the few bright spots on a team that severely underachieved in the postseason.

There’s been some odd talk about Sergachev not getting top four minutes that I’d like to dispel. Sergachev didn’t start off the year getting top four minutes, but by season’s end he most definitely was.

2018-2019 D Icetime, Tampa Bay Lightning
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath,

A slight roller coaster in terms of the consistency, but once the 60 game mark hit Sergachev was locked into the top four. This also coincides with the decline of Anton Stralman’s ice time (and effectiveness). One could say that Tampa Bay was forced into giving Sergachev those minutes due to Stralman’s ineffectiveness and inability to stay healthy, but a closer look tells a different story.

The Numbers

According to Natural Stat Trick, Sergachev controlled 55% of the shot attempts while on the ice, which is best among all Lightning defensemen. He generated an expected goal share of 55%, which was second only to Victor Hedman (56%). He also controlled 53% of the high danger chances while on the ice, which was again, second only to Victor Hedman (54%). A minor caveat to this is how the coaches deployed Sergachev’s. He saw 57.81% of his shifts start in the offensive zone, which was the most of any defensemen on the Lightning. Hedman was just behind him at 56.76%. You’d like to see Sergachev’s deployment even out a bit, but the puck wasn’t leaving the offensive zone very often with Sergachev on the ice—that’s what you want to see.

If we take a look at Evolving-Hockey’s metrics, Sergachev ended up with 7.3 GAR, which was fourth best among Lightning defensemen. As for WAR, he generated a 1.3 which was also fourth best. Diving a little deeper we find out, surprisingly, Sergachev is dragged down by a team worst -1.7 PP GAR and a -0.1 SH GAR. However, Sergachev only played a grand total of 15 minutes on the penalty kill and his heat map showcases a more positive contribution than his GAR, so take that for what it is.

Mikhail Sergachev, PK (With/Without), 2018-2019
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath,

That said, at 5v5, Sergachev generated 8.2 GAR, which is still fourth on the team among defensemen, but is only 0.2 behind Erik Cernak (8.4). Add in that Sergachev’s most consistent partner was Braydon Coburn, and that away from each other only one of these defensemen kept his head above water (Sergachev 57% CF%, 56% xGF% / Coburn 45% CF%, 44% xGF%) and it’s clear who was doing a lot of the heavy lifting between the two.

The Voting

A pretty even consensus among everyone here. I don’t blame anyone who put Anthony Cirelli ahead of Sergachev. Honestly, those two are a toss up in these rankings. Personally, I ranked Sergachev second and Cirelli third, but to each their own. Compared to last season, Sergachev only moved up one spot, but that’s understandable given that Brayden Point will have the number one spot on this list locked down for the foreseeable future unless Sergachev blows up and wins a Norris trophy. That said, Sergachev has been great for the Lightning thus far, and he’s only going to get better—remember he’s only 21.

The Future

As for next season, it’s a little cloudy when determining what the defensive pairings will be. The only pairing close to a lock is the Ryan McDonagh-Erik Cernak pairing. More than likely, Sergachev will be paired with Coburn for most of the season to bolster the third pair, but will likely see spot duty with Hedman and Kevin Shattenkirk (they’re going to have to find a way to feed Sergachev more minutes). Or, Tampa Bay could be aggressive and throw caution to the wind with a full time Hedman-Sergachev pairing. Who knows, but there are benefits to both avenues of thinking and they should be explored to see which ones meld with the team more effectively.

I’ve heard some minor souring on Sergachev because of [insert nonsensical narrative driven crap], and it’s amusing. Since Cernak burst onto the roster and became glued to McDonagh’s hip, Sergachev was kind of forgotten by some. Never mind the fact that he’s one of the best play driving defensemen on the team, and quarterbacks the second power-play unit (remember when Tampa Bay tried to alternate between McDonagh and Sergachev on the second unit? Woo-boy, glad that experiment didn’t last long).

At 21 years old, Sergachev is a top four defensemen in the NHL. He’s not even in his prime yet. He’s still going to improve and, in my opinion, he hasn’t even scratched his ceiling yet. Let’s refocus on the fact that Sergachev is pretty damn good and shouldn’t be underrated.

Even the NHL Network has managed to not overlook Sergachev potentially “breaking out” next season. Though, “breaking out” implies he hasn’t been especially good for Tampa Bay, which is the exact opposite of the truth, but national networks rarely tend to get their narratives correct anyway.

The Fun

I love this goal. Sergachev is one of the more aggressive shooters from the back-end on the Lightning and his shot has to be respected. Even after getting his shot blocked, he just casually recovers it and resets everything for Tampa Bay before the forwards re-establish control.

Again, Sergachev is aggressive to force the defense to commit to him because he can and will shoot, and has the vision to find an open J.T. Miller for the one-timer before the defense can properly react. That’s what you want out of your defensemen in the offensive zone.

Quarterbacking the second power-play unit you say? Sergachev’s got you covered. The key thing here is how Sergachev patiently pulls the high defender away from Yanni Gourde for the one-timer. That penalty killer has to respect the fact that Sergachev can and will fire it from the point and could possibly score. It also helps that Brian Dumoulin is more concerned with pinning Adam Erne to the boards than actually playing hockey (though, admittedly, Erne slowed him down by wrapping his stick up).

Look at this, he doesn’t even look at Alex Killorn before dishing this pass across the offensive zone for another one-timer. C’mon folks, this is just beautiful to watch.

Sergachev reads the situation after being in a good defensive position and jumps into the play to score his first goal of the season. Sucks that it took til January 5th for it to happen (also sucks that Tampa Bay got thrashed in this game), but a goal is a goal!

This goal is here for one purpose and one purpose only. It’s just a too damn gorgeous not to be on here. The release, the accuracy, and the befuddlement in Khudobin’s body language.