CHICAGO – In a draft class full of question marks, Klim Kostin may be the most intriguing. The Russian power forward missed a huge chunk of the season due to a shoulder injury, but has always performed well at international tourneys – including the Ivan Hlinka and World Jr. A Challenge this season.
“His physical talent is elite; protects the puck as well as anybody,” said one scout. “His scoring got better as the (Ivan Hlinka) tournament went on. Reminds me of Nichushkin.”
Now, he’s talking about draft year Valeri Nichushkin, who was a force of nature at the world juniors as a 17-year-old, just to give you a framework. And with Kostin coming in at 6-foot-3 and 196 pounds already, it’s not hard to see the upside, especially since the kid is very motivated.
Even though Kostin was selected first overall in the CHL Import Draft last summer, he chose not to sign with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice. Instead, he stayed home and logged time in both the KHL and VHL, which is basically Russia’s version of the AHL. Though he didn’t get a ton of ice time (few Russian teens do at the men’s level), Kostin was happy with the experience and he is steadfast that next year will be no different. When asked where he is going to play for 2017-18, he said “NHL.” Failing that, his fallback is the AHL – he doesn’t want to play junior hockey in North America, even if Kootenay were to trade his rights.
“I want to play with older players,” he said through translator Dan Milstein, who also happens to be his agent. “To learn from them and develop my game.”
While the shoulder surgery was a downer, Kostin won’t let it be a hindrance for his development.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “But I worked extremely hard to get back into shape. I’m at 100 percent now and ready to play in the NHL next season.”
Kostin grew up in Penza, a centuries-old fortress city about six hours southeast of Moscow. His parents own a butcher shop there, but by age 12, Kostin’s hockey career was ready for a bigger challenge. He moved to Moscow and lived with his grandmother in order to play for the legendary Dynamo program (where Alex Ovechkin played), where he was still playing this season.
Kostin played many sports growing up. Along with hockey, there was soccer, basketball, volleyball and his second-favorite sport, boxing. His cousin is actually a pro middleweight boxer and the two train together in the summer.
Inevitably when European players come over to North America for the first time, some opponent challenges them to fight. With Kostin’s size and boxing background, that might not be the hottest idea – especially because he would be happy to surprise them with his skills in that area.
“For sure,” he said. “Absolutely.”
A big fan of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, the right winger still wants to work on his skating, his defense and his shot (though scouts are pretty excited about his hard shot already).
Due to the injury and the scant minutes he played this past season, Kostin is difficult to peg in terms of a draft slot. Anywhere between No. 9 and No. 24 is likely, but I could certainly see a franchise falling in love and taking him sooner.
Skilled power forwards with drive aren’t exactly in abundant supply these days and Kostin seems like a gamer. And he is definitely up for the biggest challenges.