Last night against the Phoenix Coyotes was, in most ways, a demoralizing loss. One positive that stayed in the back of my mind, though, was the play of 23 year old forward Sergei Kostitsyn, acquired in an offseason trade for the rights to Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd. His short career has been quite the roller coaster - from scoring 131 points as a 19 year old, to being suspended by his own team, then traded away from his older brother Andrei in Montreal, Kostitsyn has seen a lot of adversity in the past four years.
The move that brought him to Nashville, then, was seen very much like a lottery ticket - if he bombs out, its not a great loss; he's paid less than Wade Belak and was essentially free. If, however, his immense and varied skill set proves a good fit in Music City, then the Predators will have found a very important asset at little to no cost.
Follow after the jump for a look at his goal against the Coyotes last night, and why his first period effort could be a sign of greater things to come.
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For much of the preseason and on into the regular season, Kostitsyn has dealt with a broken toe, which is hard enough to walk on, much less skate. He would debut in the 3rd game of the year against St. Louis, and score his 1st goal against Tampa Bay almost two weeks ago. As the games have worn on, Kostitsyn has played progressively better, and as such seen an increase in ice time and productivity, which hasn't come necessarily through statistics, but a clear change in gears from the first few outings.
Last night, though, was his best outing by far - he skated 13 minutes, scored what I thought was a very impressive goal, and delivered several good hits in the defensive zone on his way to a +1 rating.
"He has a lot of intelligence, in terms of what he can do with the puck. Its really key for him to get his pace up," Barry Trotz said after Kostitsyn's debut against St. Louis.
Trotz's statement and exhortation were heeded last night, as Kostitsyn stripped Adrian Aucoin of a chipped out puck at the blue line, muscled around him, and fired a hard and well-placed wrist shot past the glove of Ilya Bryzgalov for his 2nd goal of the year. Take a look:
"I need him to play with more pace, more back pressure, and that'll hopefully come with more game time and understanding with how we want him to play," Trotz stated on October 14.
The goal was a perfect storm of Coach Trotz's wishes - Kostitsyn hustled for the puck on defense, showed his hockey smarts in keeping it away from Aucoin, and pace when he gained space in front of the defender to put the puck into the net. Is it coincidence that Kostitsyn's improved play is coming after a learning period with the team? I think not.
Kostitsyn's play in the first period of last night's game showed all the reasons why he has the potential, if used correctly, to become a very important part of this Nashville Predators team. Kostitsyn has the combination of size, strength, and skill to make him an extremely effective NHL player - if he can continue to work hard and do what the coaching staff asks of him.
Time will tell if Kostitsyn continues improving, and if Barry Trotz places further trust in him - but the early returns are more promising than most would've dared to hope for when the season began.