By Heather Engel
BUFFALO – The Canadiens’ draft stance has long been to take the best player available. But who that would ultimately be when their turn rolled around on Friday night was anybody’s guess.
In the end, it was defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, from the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.
Considered one of the top three defensive prospects in numerous draft rankings, most expected him to be gone by the time the Canadiens were on the clock. There was chatter Sergachev and Olli Juolevi had moved ahead of Jakob Chychrun in many eyes and with some teams potentially eyeing defense, it wasn’t expected he would still be on the board.
That he was left the Habs with an easy decision.
“We felt there was a gap after the first four or five picks. He could have gone anywhere – six, seven, eight, nine, we weren’t sure. When our turn came, it was unanimous that he was our pick,” said Bergevin, who noted the Canadiens were “very happy” to see him available at ninth overall.
Sergachev admitted he was nervous when he heard amateur scouting director Trevor Timmins say Windsor when announcing the Montreal’s pick, thinking it might be teammate Logan Brown, a center who had been linked to the team in various mock drafts. But the smile on his face as he posed for the on-stage photo op with Canadiens’ brass, said it all.
“This is pretty special. This is the best feeling because Montreal is a hockey town and nothing can be better than being selected by the Canadiens,” he said.
Sergachev, who turns 18 on Saturday, had a rough start in his first season in North America. He struggled with long offensive droughts through the first half of the season while recording 12 points in 26 games. He finished his rookie campaign with 57 points in 67 games. His 17 goals led all OHL defensemen while his 40 assists ranked third among the league’s blue-liners.
“It was kind of a good season, a lot of ups and downs but coaches and my (defensive) partners helped me a lot – the whole organization,” he noted. “During the middle of the season, I got kind of homesick and stuff but a lot of people helped me. Windsor is a great place.”
A self-described two-way defenseman with a good shot, Elite Prospects describes the Nizhenamsk, Russia, native as a player “whose tenacity and competitiveness characterize his style of play” and a player “who excels at finding ways to be a difference-maker in games.” Canadiens scouts liked what they saw in his hockey smarts, his shot, and the fact that he can play on either the right or left side.
“He’s a confident kid, he’s confident in his game and the reason he came over to Windsor was to play in the NHL. He wants to be there one day,” Brown said at the Combine earlier this month. “He really took a lot of steps in his game. He got better and better as the year went on and adapted to the North American game.”
Timmins said prior to the draft that the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Sergachev is physically ready for the NHL. Bergevin said he projects his newest blue-liner who can eventually replace Andrei Markov. There is still some time before his game is ready for the majors; Sergachev knows he has areas to improve on but that won’t stop him from eyeing a roster spot in the fall.
“I want to play (in the NHL) as soon as possible. If they give me that chance next year, I will use that chance.”