More and more, it appears Mikhail Sergachev is sticking with the Lightning for good.
And the 19-year-old rookie defenseman got another vote of confidence recently, the team telling him it was okay to look for an apartment in Tampa. Sergachev is moving out of the hotel he's lived in since training camp into a two-bedroom spot downtown.
You wouldn't think the Lightning would tell Sergachev to sign a lease if it had any plans to send him back to his junior team in Windsor in a couple months.
"Obviously I like it, because staying in the hotel for two months is hard," Sergachev said. "When you have your own apartment, it's going to be different for me because I've never lived by myself. I think it's fun."
Sergachev deserves to stay, having quickly established himself as one of the team's top-six defensemen. He's got 10 points in his first 12 games, including four goals. The decision to keep Sergachev in the NHL after the nine-game mark (starting his entry-level contract) was a no-brainer. The tougher one is when Sergachev reaches the 40-game mark, when the Lightning forfeits the conditional second-round pick Montreal would give them as part of the June Jonathan Drouin trade. Plus, that's when the clock really starts ticking for Sergachev to get closer to free agency.
Second round picks are valuable, especially in making moves at the trade deadline. And keeping Sergachev on his affordable entry-level deal for as long as Tampa Bay can is valuable in the salary-cap world.
But the bottom line is Sergachev is holding his own in the top-four on a Stanley Cup contender. Keeping him is best for the prospect's development. And it gives Tampa Bay its best chance to win.
"He's a fast learner, I'll tell you that," coach Jon Cooper said. "Looking at his first preseason game to his first regular season game to now, just his comfort level with the league. By no means is it perfect. But just watching him develop in a short period of time, he's a confident kid.
"Everybody makes a big deal about him passing the nine-game mark. But he's deserved it. He deserves to be here."
Sergachev is not only more comfortable on the ice, but off it. He's gotten to explore Tampa, making side trips to Universal and Busch Garden's. He's played top golf in Brandon, and had his first Bern's experience, digging the dessert room. After Saturday's game, Sergachev took a stroll around the University of Tampa campus, marveling at the architecture. "Looks like in Harry Potter," he quipped.
Sergachev, who lived with a host family in Windsor after first moving to North America, is excited for the challenges of having his own pad. His parents plan to visit from Russia. After all, he's got two bedrooms.
Sergachev has found a home. And that's a good thing - for him, and Tampa Bay.