The Montreal Canadiens seem to be in a decent spot when it comes to their depth on the blue line. With a top six full of veteran core defensemen like Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Andre Markov it seems tough to find any weaknesses. Especially with the promising play from 24-year-old Nathan Beaulieu who is set to shatter his career bests across the board. The life of a Canadiens defensemen looks solid for the time being. But time is the key factor in this situation.
There are members of the defensive core that have solid positions going forward. Weber leads the way as the top pair’s right shot. He plays alongside Alexei Emelin who has struggled with only seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) playing in all but two of the teams’ 58 games. In a word, Emelin’s play has been disappointing; and at age 30 he is going to be entering the final year of his contract with the team next season.
The next question mark is 38-year-old Andrei Markov. Although he is playing at a high level, his age will catch up with him and his body along with his play will begin to break down. Markov still has the ability to contribute on the power play, but the Canadiens will need a new to replace his ice-time with someone.
Look no more. Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth overall selection in the 2016 draft is the answer.
This high-motored, 18-year-old looks poised to make a difference in the NHL. And the best thing for Sergachev going forward is that he will not be rushed into the NHL by the Canadiens.
The timing is perfect. Between Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov, spots within the top-six will soon be vacant. Markov’s contract expires after this season, and at 38 if he is to return to Montreal it will be in a much smaller role and a much smaller cap hit. Emelin, on the other hand, has a cap hit of $4.1 million next season, and unless he turns his play around and starts scoring more points look for his role within the top-six to shrink, possibly down to the third pairing.
At 18, Sergachev’s offensive game is very developed. He has the ability to take the puck up the ice on the rush with speed and control. He has a quick release in the slot and a heavy shot from the point.
Perhaps Sergachev’s best trait is his positioning. All too often in Junior hockey, a highly touted defensive prospect with a strong offensive game jumps in on the offensive game plan more than he should. Sergachev will not rush the puck up the ice on every possession and when the team is in the offensive zone he will remain at the point.
But, the Canadiens’ top prospect is far from just an offensive defenseman. He has a fine-tuned defensive game. He is active in passing lanes and goes out of his way to block shots. Also, Sergachev is an exceptional checker making him one of the most polished two-way defensive prospects in the NHL.
— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) January 30, 2017
Top Dog in Windsor
So far Sergachev has played a season and a half in Windsor for the Spitfires and with success.
In the 2015-2016 season, he played 67 games and recorded 57 points. His 17 goals that season was the most among OHL defensemen. In addition, he was the recipient of the Max Kaminsky Trophy awarded to the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman. He was named to the OHL All-Star team at midseason and the OHL First All-Rookie team after the season. In his second season for Windsor, he has played a total of 36 games and recorded 34 points. Ahead of schedule for last year’s points total.
Throughout his 103-game OHL career, he has recorded 91 points (24 goals and 67 assists), a points per game average (PPG) of 0.88 (tops among OHL defensemen).
A Look Into the Future
Given Sergachev’s age and the comfortable position of the Montreal Canadiens, there won’t be pressure on rushing him to the NHL. Once he arrives, he will be a defenseman who plays big minutes and is a fixture on the power play.
Spending more time in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) will only be beneficial. He will continue to train and gain weight and prepare his body for the NHL game.
Sergachev has emerged as a top prospect in the NHL. So naturally, his name is circulating with trade rumors. The Canadiens know what Sergachev can be in the NHL one day, it is only a matter of if they are willing to wait for him to be ready.