One of the lessons people can take away from professional sports such as hockey is that raw skill alone doesn’t make someone successful. The game’s greatest players are often highly driven, courageous, hard-working and consistent.
If all that mattered was his blinding speed and impressive puck skills, Sergei Kostitsyn would at least be a useful NHL player (if not a star). Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in Montreal, as scandal and coach Jacques Martin’s distaste tainted the younger Kostitsyn brother’s years with the Canadiens.
His former OHL teammate Patrick Kane is surprised that things haven’t worked out for the talented Belarussian, according to a story in the Tennessean.
“There were a lot of times I remember coming off the ice, there would always be something Sergei would say or do during the game,” Kane said. “I remember telling my parents and they would laugh about it for about 15 minutes.”
This is the side of Kostitsyn that has not been heard over the past three years, the one that took the OHL by storm in 2006-07 when he was one of the best players on a team that featured Kane and fellow first-round draft pick Sam Gagner. Instead, after he joined the Montreal Canadiens in 2007-08, the news about Kostitsyn mostly involved suspensions and benchings.
“It is kind of mind-boggling to me,” Kane said. “I know what a great player he is and what a great talent he can be, and I thought back in the OHL he was probably the best player in our league at the time.”
Rather than going for bigger bucks (and the comforts of being closer to home/perhaps playing in a less structured league), Sergei Kostitsyn opted for a cheap one year deal with the Nashville Predators. You can look at the situation in at least two ways. Optimists will predict that Kostitsyn will be a lot like Maxim Afinogenov in Atlanta; a wayward player who produced nice offense on a frugal deal. (Although, yes, Afinogenov failed to get another NHL deal so it’s not all roses in that scenario.) Naysayers will point out the fact that Predators coach Barry Trotz runs a tight, defensive-minded system that won’t translate well to Kostitsyn’s puck philosophy.
As is normally the case with these types of situations, my guess is that the answer will be somewhere in between. The Predators aren’t loaded with high-end forwards so Kostitsyn will get plenty of opportunities to rack up powerplay minutes and the points that come with it.
Being that he’s only 23 years old, it seems a little strange to say this might be a do-or-die season for Kostitsyn, but it’s been a rocky ride and Kostitsyn must prove that he’s willing to put in the work to be a full-time NHL player. His story should be an interesting one to watch this season.