Utah Hockey Club made a splash during the second day of the NHL draft on Saturday, sending a ripple through the crowd at the Sphere in Las Vegas when it traded for Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, then followed that up with a trade for New Jersey Devils defenseman John Marino.

In less than an hour, UHC general manager Bill Armstrong solved the No. 1 problem facing his club entering its inaugural season in Utah — its lack of defensemen.

On June 27, Utah didn’t have any NHL-level defensemen on its roster and now has five, having re-signed Michael Kesselring, Juuso Välimäki and Sean Durzi, plus trading for Sergachev and Marino.

The 26 year-old Sergachev instantly becomes Utah’s top defensive option and raises the floor of UHC’s blue line. A key part of two Stanley Cup champion teams, the 6-foot-3, 211-pound Sergachev was ranked by ESPN as the 53rd-best player in the NHL ahead of the 2023-24 season.

In addition to his proficiency on defense, he put up 64 points in his last fully healthy season, 2022-23, showcasing his two-way ability.

Sergachev’s 2023-24 season was derailed by a broken leg, and he played in just 34 total games, but returned late in the season to play in two playoff games.

“Mikhail Sergachev is a proven winner and point producer and has been one of the best shut-down defensemen in the NHL for a sustained period of time,” Armstrong said.

“Mikhail is a top two-way NHL defenseman, and you cannot win in this league without a star, elite defenseman. We are thrilled to welcome Mikhail to our organization and look forward to many years ahead with him leading our blue line.”

In exchange for Sergachev, Armstrong traded away defenseman J.J. Moser, who played 80 games last year in Arizona, plus top center prospect Conor Geekie, pick No. 199 in the 2024 draft and a 2025 second-round pick via the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Marino, 27-years-old, is another player who fits Armstrong’s timeline. Though Marino had a bit of a down year with New Jersey last season, Utah is betting on a bounce-back season for the 6-foot-1, 181-pounder who had a great season in 2022-23 as the Devils made the playoffs.

For Marino and a 2024 fifth-round pick, which turned into defenseman Ales Cech, Utah traded the No. 49 pick in this year’s draft and a 2025 second-round pick via the Edmonton Oilers.

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With two big-impact defenders signed and a good chunk of last year’s defense re-signed in Kesselring (21 points for Arizona last season), Durzi (41 points) and Välimäki (17 points), Utah has made big strides in fixing its blue line.

With an exciting offense that includes Clayton Keller (76 points), Nick Schmaltz (61 points) and Matias Maccelli (57 points), plus Lawson Crouse (42 points), All-Rookie team member Logan Cooley (44 points) and Dylan Guenther (35 points), could Utah make a playoff push?

Some observers around the league, like Dom Luszczyszyn, national NHL writer for The Athletic, think so.

Will Utah take big swings in free agency to try and win now following the additions of Sergachev and Marino?

Pump the brakes, says Armstrong.

“You have to temper expectations and not get too ahead of yourself because you’ve had two good players that make you a little better,” he said in a press conference in Salt Lake City on Sunday.

Armstrong reiterated the importance of organic growth for his young team, using Tampa Bay as an example.

“We want to make sure that we’re building a Stanley Cup winner, but we’re doing it over time,” Armstrong said, “and one of the things I’ve always talked about is the patience with this team that our fans are going to need and the media’s going to need, and if you look at the teams that have done it properly, it’s a long rebuild, but it’s a fun one.”

The next step in that rebuild, which is entering its fifth year, is to be a more consistent team. No more 14-game losing streaks, though it should be noted that such came at a tumultuous time in Arizona as the rumors heated up about relocation. Utah wants to play meaningful games and be in the hunt down the stretch.

Where the trades for Sergachev and Marino may have altered Utah’s free agency plans is that there’s not a pressing need to get a top-level defender now, though UHC could certainly still add defensemen.

Armstrong said Sunday that the team is looking for players in free agency who can help on its penalty kill.

“One of the trends is nowadays is the power plays from the elite teams are so good that the high-end skill is amazing. Well, there’s also another side to that is that you better have a great PK and that’s face-offs, blocking shots, being long and your goaltending has to be tuned into a higher level,” Armstrong said.

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Improving its penalty kill could have a “huge effect on the synergy of the team and helping us take that next step,” Armstrong said.

“I think one avenue we can look for is guys in PK that you might be able to help us that can block shots and that if we can fix that small component, whether it’s up front or it’s on the backside by adding one or two players in free agency, that could really help our team out,” Armstrong said.

With over $22 million in cap room, Utah has money to work with in free agency, but Armstrong is not going to use all of it this offseason during free agency. Some of that will be used on Utah’s restricted free agents, as UHC extended qualifying offers to forwards Barrett Hayton, Jan Jenik, Milos Kelemen, Curtis Douglas and defenseman Victor Soderstrom.

“We have all this cap space,” Amstrong said, “but if you use all the cap space this year, what are you going to use next year?”

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