The Montreal Canadiens Blueline Could Use the Help of Sergachev

October 20, 2016: Mikhail Sergachev (22) of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the first period of the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
October 20, 2016: Mikhail Sergachev (22) of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the first period of the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

After a dismal start to the season the Montreal Canadiens may wish they had Sergachev rather than Mete on their blue line. A look back on the trade that acquired Drouin.

Last March held lots of excitement for Montreal Canadiens fans. With their playoff spot already secured, many Habs faithful took a week to stop watching the main club and turned their eyes to the Ontario Hockey League. The Windsor Spitfires and London Knights were about to compete in the first round of the playoffs for the J. Ross Robertson Cup. That meant fans were going to see their high-end defensive prospects Mikhail Sergachev and Victor Mete face off against one another.

Sergachev was the one most wanted to see. Drafted  9th overall, the Russian defenseman had made a big splash in the OHL that year scoring 44 points in 50 games. The first round pick was known for his impressive ability to walk into a play and not being afraid to get gritty for his team.

Mete was certainly regarded as the less flashier of the two. Drafted 100th overall in the fourth round, he was often compared to Shea Weber. Mete didn’t walk into a play like Sergachev, but rather stayed on the point. The strategy worked well for him, as his massive shots found the back of the net 13.51% of the time during the entire 2016/17 OHL season.

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The London/Windsor playoff series went to seven games and both players were hailed for the play. London would take the series when they won the game 3-2 on a goal primarily assisted by Mete.

Junior Highlights Become a Professional Opportunity

Sergachev was called up to the show last season for four games with the Habs and managed to impress. General Manager Marc Bergevin used this hype around the dynamic Sergachev and traded him in the offseason to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Quebecois forward Jonathan Drouin. Was it a good trade for the club?

Montreal has struggled defensively this season. After losing the grit of Alexei Emelin in the expansion draft and then the offensive quarterbacking of Andrei Markov, the Habs needed a big bolster to their blue line. To help fill their spots, Mete made the main club on the first defensive pairing with Weber.

Should the Club Have Kept Sergachev or is Mete Enough for the Blueline?

As of writing, Sergachev has played eight games while Mete and the Montreal Canadiens have played seven. Looking at the numbers, both defensemen are being utilized similarly. They’re both making the majority of their starts in the offensive zone. Additionally, both of them play primarily at even strength. Their biggest differential though is in time on ice. Mete is averaging around 19 minutes a game, whereas Sergachev is averaging only 12 minutes.

That being said, when it comes to scoring, Sergachev is doing much better. The Lightning rookie has scored six points so far in his eight games. The entire Montreal blue line has scored seven. Mete accounts for one assist from that total. Just one assist with almost 40 more minutes played than Sergachev. For the record, Drouin has five points: two goals and three assists.

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I think the ice time is certainly important to note. Both players are 19-years-old and went directly from the OHL to the NHL with no development in between. Both are clearly NHL ready but, could Mete benefit more playing 19 minutes in the AHL than directly with the Montreal Canadiens? I believe so, and if you watch Mete closely he is still learning the pro game.

Offensively it’s apparent that Mete understands his role well. He always exhibits great positioning and can pull off some really crisp passing. Defensively, however, is where he struggles. When the rest of the team is playing zone defense he’s typically playing man to man. He spends a lot of energy chasing the puck in the defensive zone when he can be better prepared by keeping himself between the offensive skater and the goalie.

When he played with London, Mete didn’t need to worry about defensive zone positioning as much because his skill placed him much higher than most of his competition. In the NHL however, it’s apparent he still has much to learn.

No Real Place for Mete to Develop

The problem is, you can’t just send him to the AHL to learn these things. Due to the current agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League (which oversees the OHL, QMJHL and WHL), any player drafted by the NHL has to be sent back to their junior club if they aren’t playing for the main club. That means despite the AHL entry age being 18, a player can’t go there until they are over 20 if they started in CHL.

There have been times where you can see this isn’t to the benefit of the player. Josh Ho-Sang of the New York Islanders was famously sent down to his junior club, the Niagara Ice Dogs, after arriving three hours late to training camp a few seasons ago. It was clear that Ho-Sang was bored on the ice that year. He had already shown to be above the league average in skill and it didn’t appear that the extra year with the Ice Dogs gave him any improvement to his game like a stint in the AHL would.

I do believe if Mete would be much better suited to learn in the AHL than the NHL. Sending him to the OHL wouldn’t benefit because he is far above the average skill of that league. He’d play against much stronger players in the AHL and be on a line with pro veterans. As it is he has a fantastic training partner in Weber, but the results just aren’t going to come until Mete has the experience in the pro game.

Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, time is not on their side this season.

Next: Galchenyuk and the Penguins