Lightning Larceny: Revisiting Sergachev for Drouin Trade

On June 15, 2017, the Tampa Bay Lightning traded Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadians for Mikhail Sergachev. While this trade received somewhat mixed reactions when it first happened, the reasoning behind then Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman’s decision made logical sense. Not only did Sergachev fill an organizational need, but he was also safe from the upcoming expansion draft, affording the franchise a little more room to work on their roster.

Four years later, we can start to see the full picture of how this trade shaped up for both franchises. From a Lightning perspective, the team has to be happy with how Sergachev has developed throughout his time in Tampa Bay.

What the Lightning Got in Sergachev

Right off the bat, Sergachev made an impact on the Lightning. Out of his first training camp, he secured a spot on the opening night roster and took on a sheltered second-pairing role alongside veteran Anton Stralman.

By spending close to three-quarters of a season playing meaningful minutes next to one of the Lightning’s best defenders, Sergachev learned how to play at the NHL level without being exposed as a complete rookie. While he was far from perfect, his bad mistakes were often covered up by the stalwart play of Stralman.

Tampa Bay Lightning Anton Stralman
Anton Stralman acted as the primary mentor for Sergachev throughout 2017-18, spending the majority of the season with the rookie on the Lightning’s second defensive pairing. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In this sheltered role, Sergachev posted nine goals and 40 points, both franchise highs for a Lightning defensive rookie. The one caveat to these impressive totals, however, is that the majority of these points were scored before the All-Star break. After the break, he only scored one goal and 14 points, both respectable, but underwhelming totals given his hot start to the season.

McDonagh Changed Sergachev’s Projections

While some of his late-season struggles can be attributed to the Lightning just playing worse as a unit in general, Sergachev was also greatly affected by the Ryan McDonagh trade. With McDonagh in the line-up, he was pushed to the third defensive pairing next to Brayden Coburn, reducing his overall ice-time in the process.

For the majority of the 2018-19 season, Sergachev found himself playing on the third line while splitting time on the powerplay. This was not because of his overall play, though, as McDonagh simply pushed him out of the top-four.

Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning
After having a fantastic rookie season, Sergachev still lost his spot in the Lightning’s top-four due to the acquisition of Ryan McDonagh. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite this, Sergachev had solid scoring totals, posting 6 goals and 32 points in 75 games. Surprisingly, his ice-time increased from roughly 15 minutes a night to 17 minutes, showing that head coach Jon Cooper was comfortable giving him a bigger role even if it was just on the third-pairing.

The 2019-20 season was another strong outing for Sergachev, who posted 10 goals and 34 points in 70 games. Besides growing his offensive game, however, he started to utilize his size and strength effectively, laying down hits and playing a physical game that helped to round out his toolkit. He continued this play into the 2020 Playoffs in the bubble, where he played 25 games and helped Tampa Bay win their second Stanley Cup.

What the Lightning Lost in Drouin

The Lightning didn’t get Sergachev for free, of course. To acquire the young blue-liner, they had to part ways with embattled forward Jonathan Drouin, who had a tumultuous tenure in Tampa Bay. While Drouin’s skill ceiling was incredibly high, he never had the opportunity to fully break out with the Lightning. Oftentimes, he would find himself stuck in the bottom-six, which limited his offensive potential.

Due to this, he eventually requested a trade in 2016 which was granted in 2017. For his part, Yzerman was selling high on Drouin, who was coming off a 53-point campaign where he was showing glimpses of superstar talent.

Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens
In his first season in Montreal, Jonathan Drouin had somewhat unremarkable statistics, largely due to his slow start to the year. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After he was acquired by Montreal, Drouin was set to become the face of the franchise. His offensive skill was everything they needed to re-invigorate their lineup, and the Canadians gave him a six-year, $33 million contract to showcase their commitment to him as their future.

In season one, he started off slow but had decent if not underwhelming totals. He finished with 13 goals and 46 points, both reduced scoring numbers compared to his previous season in Tampa Bay.

Drouin’s Slide in Montreal

In year two, Drouin started relatively hot, putting together strong scoring totals up through December. Then, he suddenly hit a wall, disappearing from the scoresheet. As best said by Jared Book of habseyesontheprize:

In the last 26 games, he had one goal and six assists for seven points. But perhaps more damaging than the pure point totals is that those seven points came in three games, meaning he was held pointless in 23 of his last 26 games.

After these struggles, Drouin’s role in Montreal started to sour. He became a bit of a social pariah as the Canadiens painfully slid out of playoff contention. While it is unfair to put the collapse solely on his shoulders, he still failed to contribute in a meaningful way to keep them in the hunt.

In year three, Drouin started off hot before dealing with a major injury, causing him to only play in 27 games. If he had stayed healthy, 2019-20 looked like it could have been a breakout year, but instead, he had to settle for an exciting 10 games in the bubble, where he posted seven points and looked to be taking on a stronger role with the franchise.

As he started to reach this high with Montreal, uncertainty set in for Drouin again. In 2020-21, he played in 44 games, posting just two goals and 23 points. In late April, he took an indefinite leave of absence from the team, which has caused him to miss the entirety of the 2021 Playoffs, where the Canadians fought their way out of the North Division.

As of now, we don’t know what caused this leave of absence, and it is important to say that whatever he is dealing with, the hockey community should be there to support Drouin and give him the time and space needed to work through whatever this issue is.

Lightning Should Be Happy With This Trade

In four seasons, Sergachev has done almost everything the franchise could have hoped for. By playing hundreds of regular and postseason games, he has experienced the full gambit of the NHL. No, he wasn’t always perfect, but he constantly learned and improved his game.

By the end of the 2020 Playoffs, you could see Sergachev gaining confidence in his role with the franchise. He started making those beautiful end to end skating plays that one would expect from a veteran player, not a 20-year-old defenseman.

Mikhail Sergachev Tampa Bay Lightning
For the Lightning, Sergachev has been the perfect young piece to fill out their already impressive defensive corps. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When you consider that he is turning 23 years old this June, one can only be excited about Sergachev’s future, especially for a Lightning franchise that desperately needed young defensive talent. He has the full toolkit to become an elite player, and by the time he turns 25, Sergachev could be seen as a top-tier defenseman alongside the likes of Victor Hedman.