Cooper: Rookie Sergachev is staying with Lightning
If there were any remaining doubt, Lightning coach Jon Cooper made it clear Tuesday morning before Tampa Bay's game at Carolina: Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, making a strong first impression at age 19, is staying with the Lightning moving forward.
"You're looking for 'Has there been improvement? Is he adapting to the game, the speed of the game, the physicality?' He's done all that," Cooper said after the morning skate in Raleigh. "When you watch a player like that continue to improve, especially at a young age, looking at the ceiling he has, which is really high right now, it's pretty hard to make a change. He's had a positive impact on our team. He's a part of a team, and that's how it's going to be moving forward."
The Lightning could have sent Sergachev to the juniors, as playing in his 10th game would trigger the first year of his entry level contract. But his progress and impact -- he was acquired from Montreal this summer in the trade for Jonathan Drouin -- has been clear, especially in the last two games, as he's scored his first three NHL goals.
Sergachev said he's glad to be staying at the NHL level, but will continue to play as if his future isn't assured, making a case each game to stay up with the Lightning.
"I'm so happy to be here, but it doesn't mean I'm going to stay for the whole year," Sergachev said. "So I'm just thinking about the next game every time. It's a new day for me. I have to improve every day, have to learn."
Having cleared his 10th game, the next mark to pass is 40 games -- if he plays that many for the Lightning, the Canadiens no longer will send Tampa Bay the conditional second-round draft pick that was also part of the trade for Drouin.
Sergachev has been paired with veteran Anton Stralman and credited him with easing his transition to the NHL at such a young age. His recent spike in scoring isn't a focus, he said, rather improving his play overall.
"Points don't matter for me," he said. "I'm trying to learn. I feel like I'm making steps forward every game, but sometimes teams are too good and it's hard. I feel like I'm getting better."