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Catching the Torch: Mikhail Sergachev dominates heading into the World Junior Championship

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Stats, highlights and updates from Habs prospects over the past week.

Arizona Coyotes v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Each week Catching the Torch takes an in-depth look at one young member of the organization, while also providing an overview on performances over the last seven days of players below the NHL level. This includes players at the junior (CHL, USHL, etc.) and collegiate (NCAA) levels, as well as professional (AHL, ECHL) ranks.

Prospect Spotlight: Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

It’s never an easy transition for a player to return to the junior ranks after a stint in the NHL. Gone are the fancy hotel rooms and meals, locker room stalls beside childhood idols, and throngs of adoring die hard fans stopping you in the street. You got a taste of celebrity life, but that’s all it was - a taste. A tiny sample of the dream held since childhood, and now there’s no certainty that you’ll ever get back there.

Some see it as a motivator to work hard and earn another shot. But what happens when results don’t come right away? The nagging doubts, concerns, and fears creep in unannounced, but can quickly become deafening with every shot off target or missed backcheck. Every mistake amplified, and any lack of production over analyzed.

So when Mikhail Sergachev was returned to the Windsor Spitfires after three games with the Canadiens, and found the score sheet in only one of his first six outings, things could easily have spiraled out of control.

“It caught me by surprise,” Sergachev told the Windsor Star of his demotion. “I came to [the] rink and was preparing to work out and was told [Marc Bergevin] wants to see you. I had it in my mind [that a return was possible], but I didn’t want to come back.”

“I wasn’t happy,” he further elaborated to Sportsnet. But that isn’t to say he didn’t appreciate the chance the Canadiens had given him. “Not many 18-year-old kids can talk to Shea Weber and Andrei Markov and play games with them and practice with them. I had that chance.”

Since then, Sergachev has been working hard to get another chance. After those first six games, he has been held off the score sheet in only three of the next twelve, and had seven or more shots on goal four times.

This week, Sergachev was expected to be - like many others of his age and talent - with his national team in preparation for the World Junior Championship, but the injury-depleted Spitfires received a gift from Team Russia in having the rearguard left available for the two last pre-break games. And while a tired Windsor team was unable to pick up a win, the defenseman turned in a big effort on each night.

Friday night, Sergachev collected assists on all three Windsor tallies in a 4-3 loss to the Erie Otters, firing seven shots on net and being named third star. He was back with Jalen Chatfield for much of the game, but united with Sean Day as the ‘Spits buzzed for an equalizer late in the third.

Then on Saturday, he had a game-high eight shots and scored the game-tying goal to force overtime with just under two minutes to play in the third.

“It was tough at first, but it’s going better now. I’m trying to play physical hockey and to be very involved in the action,” he said to RDS. “It’s great to be on the ice so much and to play in all game situations.”

Both Bergevin and Windsor GM Warren Rychel seem to agree on the areas Sergachev needs to improve if he wants a longer look with Montreal as early as next season. “I watch, and he’s not quite ready,” Bergevin told the Montreal Gazette at the time he was sent down, adding he needs to work on, “[doing] things quicker. In junior, he had more time and he takes his time because he knows he has it. Even there, he can work on doing things quicker.”

He will have plenty of big opportunities to improve this year, starting with the WJC later this month. Though he isn’t taking that for granted, noting that Russia still has to make four final cuts, and keeping his eyes set on the objective of making the team. Later this year, he will also get to partake in the Memorial Cup, as Windsor is the host team.

Prospect Performances from December 5 - 11, 2016

CHL

Jeremiah Addison registered no points but had four shots in each of Friday and Saturday’s Windsor losses. He was notably dangerous shorthanded in both games, pressuring the opposition even when down a man to earn a scoring chance on each night.

Will Bitten started the week strong as his line with Matthew Strome and Niki Petti were responsible for two of four first period Hamilton markers Friday, pacing their side to an eventual 7-4 victory over Mississauga. Bitten himself had one of the goals and an assist on Strome’s tally, but the trio would be held off the scoreboard the next two nights in 4-3 and 4-1 losses. With 22 points through 30 games, Bitten remains well off the pace of last year when he notched 30 goals and 65 points in 67 contests. He continues to generate chances, firing 8 total shots over the two Dogs’ losses, and eventually should start to get more bounces going his way.

On Tuesday, Matt Bradley failed to find the scoresheet despite his Medicine Hat Tigers putting up eight goals on a night where they let an early 4-1 lead slip away, only to prevail in overtime. He collected two assists to go with a pair of minor penalties on Saturday, setting up the Tigers’ second goal and late empty-netter in a 5-3 win.

Simon Bourque did not play this week as he recovers from a minor injury, and also awaits his fate with Rimouski allegedly looking to deal him to a contender.

Michael Pezzetta remains suspended and thus saw no OHL action this week.

Victor Mete was one of the early cuts from Team Canada’s WJC selection camp, but will undoubtedly learn from the experience, and should be better armed to lock down a spot a year from now. He didn’t seem to let the disappointment get the better of him, assisting on the Knights’ only goal in a 3-1 loss Thursday, and then scoring the game-opener Saturday en route to a 4-1 victory over Guelph.

Noah Juulsen missed Everett’s games this week for the Canadian junior camp, and was successful in his quest to make the final roster. Juulsen seemed to be a lock with the coaching staff from the outset, and should thus be expected to carry a heavy workload. In practice once the roster was determined, he was paired with Carolina Hurricanes 2016 first round pick Jake Bean.

NCAA

Jake Evans and Colin Sullivan both had the week off as the college semester nears its end.

A week after scoring his first of the season, Nik Koberstein found the scoresheet again this Saturday, helping to pull Alaska back within one in the third period by setting up a Troy Van Tetering goal. Unfortunately, Bowling Green would get the goal back just nine seconds later, moving ahead 5-3 and ensuring they completed their revenge after a 3-2 loss to the Nanooks Friday (a game in which Koberstein was blanked).

Casey Staum was pointless in a pair of Dubuque match-ups. He was a -2 in Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Tri-City Storm, but was a +2 Saturday as the Fighting Saints came out on the right side of a 4-2 verdict.

AHL/ECHL

Charles Hudon briefly returned to the IceCaps line-up in what was likely intended as a short break from a Montreal call-up. Unfortunately in the one game he played, a collision with teammate Chris Terry put him back on injured reserve with coach Sylvain Lefebvre indicating he would be out until at least after Christmas.

While his numbers still don’t jump off the page, Jacob De La Rose has been hot by his own standards with two assists this week temporarily giving him a four-game point streak only to see it snapped Saturday. He continues to play sound defensive hockey and is a key cog to the penalty kill, but his offense can be considered streaky at best.

Brett Lernout also registered a couple of points this week, and if the Canadiens do need a spare body on the backend due to a possible Andrei Markov injury, he may get call-up consideration. The more natural fit might be Joel Hanley (a lefty like Markov), but with Mark Barberio’s left-handed shot already with the Canadiens, they may opt for the added toughness Lernout brings as an option against the big-body Ducks.

Nikita Scherbak remains sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury, out until at least after Christmas like Hudon.

Goaltenders

Charlie Lindgren recorded his first pro shutout this week. But first, on Wednesday, Lindgren faced 41 Binghamton shots (vs. only 20 St. John’s attempts) in a game that would require extra time to determine a winner. He was beaten by Max McCormick in OT to drop a 4-3 decision. The IceCaps were again badly outshot Friday (33-20), but Lindgren turned aside all Utica advances and was a deserving first star of a 3-0 victory. Among goalies with at least ten games played, Lindgren is 16th in the AHL in goal against average, and 13th in save percentage.

Zachary Fucale strung another good week together, including his first ECHL shutout. He started his week with a 5-2 victory Thursday, named second star for his 33 stops. He struggled Friday, pulled after the first period for allowing three goals on 12 shots. But bounced back Saturday despite it being his third start in as many nights, shutting down all 26 Adirondack shots to earn a 3-0 shutout.

Hayden Hawkey, like some of his NCAA peers, had the week off leading up to the semester’s end.

Michael McNiven was among the final cuts from Team Canada’s World Juniors squad, and as such missed Owen Sound’s game this week. McNiven earned his way on to Hockey Canada’s radar with his strong start to the season (despite not being at the team’s summer camp), but lost out to Carter Hart (Philadelphia 2016 second rounder and Noah Juulsen’s Everett teammate) and Connor Ingram (Tampa Bay 2016 third round pick).