By Amanda DiPaolo
Sergei Kostitsyn became the the Nashville Predators first 20-goal scorer this season when he scored during Saturday afternoon’s 4-3 overtime defeat to the Detroit Red Wings.
Last off-season, Kostitsyn was traded to Nashville from Montreal for the negotiating rights of two players the Predators organization had no intention of resigning, Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd. Kostitsyn, a restricted free agent, signed a one-year deal with the Predators worth $550 000.
The Canadiens had no room for Kostitsyn on their roster and suspended the forward twice for refusing to play for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. When Kostitsyn wouldn’t report to Hamilton, he stated that he knew how well he could play and didn’t belong in the AHL. Last season, during the Eastern Conference finals the Habs also told Kostitsyn he was not welcome at morning skate because of his lack of work habits.
When training camp started, there were no guarantees Kostitsyn would make the Predators team.
Head Coach Barry Trotz admits that initially, no one knew if the Belarusian would work out. “It was a little bit of a risk,” Trotz said, adding, “You heard all the things coming out of Montreal, but I just watched him. You could see the skill set. You could see the ability. It was more of him buying into what we do. You don’t know if a player is going to do it. He is really intelligent as a person and a player. We were patient with him. He fits in really well. Our patience is paying off.”
Kostitsyn suffered a broken toe to start the season and when he did play, he didn’t see a lot of ice time. But there were no off-ice incidents as there had been a year earlier. The attitude was as gone as his days with the Canadiens. In fact, Kostitsyn says he he didn’t even see himself as a 20-goal scorer this season.
“No, actually I didn’t think you are going to score 20 goals, you just have to play a hard game every night,” Kostitsyn said when asked if his success this year matched his pre-season expectations.
The offensive potential has always been there, however. It hasn’t been so long ago that Kostitsyn finished third in Canadian Hockey League (CHL) scoring. In 2006-2007, Kostitsyn finished third amongst CHL skaters behind London Knights linemate Patrick Kane and Oshawa’s John Tavares, with 40 goals and 91 assists for 131 points in 59 games.
But Kostitsyn credits his team for any individual success he has achieved with Nashville. “I think the whole team is playing really good, that is why I am getting points. It isn’t just me. My line is playing really good.”
Since the end of November, Kostitsyn has spent his time on two different lines, both achieving success on the scoresheet. Paired with Marcel Goc and Martin Erat at the start of Kostitsyn’s rise, injuries tore the line apart and Kostitsyn now finds himself playing with Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist.
Having played the first two months of the season on the fourth line ewith just two goals and 1 assist, from December 1 forward, Kostitsyn has picked up 43 points in 55 games, including 20 goals and 26 assists.
Kostitsyn is also currently on a 9-game point scoring streak, a career high, but it isn’t something he is keeping track of. Kostitsyn says he never thinks about point streaks and only knows he is on one because the media has been reporting on it.
The Predators will continue to rely on Kostitsyn for the final three games of the regular season and during the playoffs. Nearing the end of his first regular season with the Predators, Kostitsyn is a team player, an important part of Nashville’s success this season, and again a restricted free agent come July 1st. While signing the 24 year old was a risk in the summer of 2010, not doing so this off season is out of the question. Kostitsyn has finally earned himself the roster spot he has known he deserved, and has done so by being a team player–key to any successful Nashville Predator.
Photo credit: AP
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