Andrei Kostitsyn v2.0
|Andrei Kostitsyn looks poised to make the team out of training camp for the first time.
Against the Senators on Saturday, no line was better than the one anchored by Kostitsyn. Teamed with his younger brother Sergei and speed demon Mikhail Grabovski, Kostitsyn’s trio was buzzing all night. They were in turn rewarded with some serious ice-time by head coach Guy Carbonneau, logging less than only the top line of Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Christopher Higgins.
“It’s fun to watch them go,” said Koivu. “Camp can go by pretty quickly, leaving these kids without much time to show what they can do. Coming up with a performance like this isn’t going to make the team’s decision any easier.”
Despite coming up short against the Senators, Carbonneau was all too eager to sing the praises of Kostitsyn’s line.
“They did all kinds of great things tonight, both with and without the puck,” said Carbonneau. “They did what they had to do to keep our attention.”
Drafted 10th overall by the Canadiens at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the elder Kostitsyn will forever be linked to Habs Director of Player Development and Recruitment Trevor Timmins. The big Belarussian winger was, after all, the first Timmins-induced pick made by the Canadiens after Timmins joined the Habs prior to the 2002-03 season.
“He’s got one heck of a shot and that’s one of the things we first noticed about Andrei before we drafted him was how he could fire the puck,” said Timmins. “Not coming over to North America sooner may have held him back for a while there, but his talent and skill set still speak for themselves."
After bumping up and down from the minors for a couple of years, Kostitsyn finally made the Habs for good last season by suiting up for the Canadiens for 20 games down the stretch. At no point were Kostitsyn’s strides more obvious than when he was sent out by Carbonneau in the dying moments of the team’s do-or-die game against the Leafs to close out the 2006-07 season.
“Andrei has also come a long way defensively,” said Timmins as he looked on from the pressbox along with a handful of his scouts. “Some of the goals he's been scoring are the result of him breaking up a play in his own end and that's something you wouldn’t have seen from him before. He's becoming a more complete player everyday.”
Kostitsyn’s growth hasn’t been limited to the ice.
“He’s really matured as a person too and that’s helped him tremendously,” said Timmins. “He’s got a young child and he’s settled down with his girlfriend and that often helps young players improve their focus.”
As for what the immediate future holds for the 22-year-old, Kostitsyn can feel good about beginning the season in Montreal for the first time in his career. The next step is staying here.
“This is his year to shine and have a breakthrough season,” added Timmins. “We need him to produce and from what he showed last season and how he’s looked at camp, this could really be Andrei’s year.”
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com