The question of which defenseman will be taken first in the 2016 draft will be determined by one factor — the style preferences of the first team looking to draft a defenseman.
Jakob Chychrun is the most physically mature of the “big three” defenders available, and he plays a well-rounded game that is attractive to teams looking for prospects who will be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later. Olli Juolevi is a cerebral player who sees the ice better than perhaps any other defenseman in the draft—he’s patient and makes the smart play more often than not.
Mikhail Sergachev is a third type of defenseman, as different from Chychrun and Juolevi as they are from one another. He’s a dynamic and tenacious player who makes an impact at both ends of the ice, and who isn’t afraid to be aggressive and jump into the play when needed.
Born in Nizhnekamsk, Russia, the Windsor Spitfires blue liner came in at 6’2” and 221 pounds at the recent NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo.
Racking up 57 points (17 goals, 40 assists) in 67 regular season games and 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 5 playoff games, Sergachev became the youngest player to win the OHL’s top defenseman award this season and made the OHL’s All-Rookie First Team.
Ranked 8th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, and 10th overall by ISS Hockey, Sergachev is an excellent skater, particularly for someone of his size. He’s fluid and mobile, with above-average speed, and can still handle the puck well when using said speed. With mobile, puck-handling defensemen becoming more and more of a requirement for successful contenders, Sergachev is likely attractive to any rebuilding team.
He is always looking for a way to be involved in the play, whether that means acting as power play quarterback or simply finding an opening on the ice and taking his opportunity. Sergachev has been described by some as a game-changer, and most scouts agree that he is a dominant, tenacious player.
His shot and pass are equally dangerous, making him an offensive threat, but while his positioning in his own end could use some work, and he could stand to get bigger, the defensive side of his game isn’t lacking.
His awareness is good, he wins battles, and he shuts down shooting lanes — all things that bode well for his future development.
Sergachev logged minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill in Windsor and as such, was a key cog in their defense. While he won’t be NHL ready just yet, he shows quite a bit of promise and should be an excellent return on investment for any team that chooses him in the first round.
Any team looking to draft a defenseman who picks in the top 15 or so (don’t expect Sergachev to fall any farther than that, and possibly not even out of the top 10) should have Sergachev on their board.
Likely landing spots for Sergachev include Buffalo at 8th, Montreal at 9th, or Colorado at 10th. Colorado, in particular, should be looking at defensemen like Sergachev, particularly if they trade Tyson Barrie this summer like scuttlebutt is saying they plan to do.
While any of these teams would be a good landing spot for him, it isn’t difficult to imagine Sergachev becoming part of Buffalo’s already rich prospect pool in the end. Windsor is close enough that they can easily monitor his development, he fills an organizational need, and the Sabres had 20 people in their interview with Sergachev at the combine, an indication that they’re already looking pretty firmly in his direction.