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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

5 Keys to Habs' Season - Part 4 - Andrei Kostitsyn

Back again, and in the home stretch with part 4 of 5, in this series.

Training camp is in full effect and the new look Habs hit the ice tonight against Florida, in Montreal. Gomez asks Lapierre if he thinks it will be a sold out tonight.

Hehe.....good one Scott. In a few short hours, you will experience, 1st hand, what it feels like to be a home boy in the largest capacity building in the NHL. Enjoy!

Ok, on with it then...

For Part 4, in the continuing series on the keys to Montreal's season, I turn my focus to Andrei Kostitsyn. Ah Andrei, Andrei, Andrei. Where to start? So much talent, such a perfect package of skill and size and yet, for some reason, you have yet to truly deliver on your top notch potential. Will this be the year? I certainly hope so!

Andrei Kostitsyn
When he was drafted, 10th overall, in the 2003 NHL draft, a lot of experts were saying that he was actually the most skilled player in the draft. They were also saying that the only reason he didn't go higher was because he had epilepsy. Well, Montreal swung for the fences and grabbed him in the 10th spot, that year. Since giving him the proper medication, Andrei's epilepsy problems were a thing of the past and he was able to turn his focus uniquely towards hockey.

Over his first two seasons, with Montreal, Andrei Kostisyn combined for a total of 24 games, 3 goals and 11 assists. While these are not significant numbers, what is significant is that we saw some flashes of pure brilliance from the Belarussian during those years.

The 2007-2008 season represented the first real breakout, for Andrei, playing in 78 games and racking up 53 points (26 goals and 27 assists) to go with a plus 15 rating. That was, not coincidentally, the same year that his linemates, Kovalev and Plekanec, were putting up some of their best career numbers too. Andrei was cruising, and looked like he would fulfill his potential of becoming a 30-40 goal scorer.

Last year, 2008-2009, was unfortunately a step back for most of the young Canadiens players and few were as evident as Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn's downfall started when he got knocked out by Kurt Sauer, of the Phoenix Coyotes, early in the year.

Once he recovered from his concussion, Kostitsyn never returned to true form. It seemed that while his head might have been physically healed, mentally he had work to do. Kostitsyn started avoiding the high slot, kept to the outside and became completely ineffective. Except for a few stretches where he looked like his old self - which is why he still managed 74 games, 23 goals and 28 assists - Kostitsyn effectively became a perimeter player.

Kostitsyn's game is barrel into the offensive zone, off of the rush, with speed, and creating goals and scoring opportunities. By checking himself, mentally, out of the scoring zones, Kostitsyn confined himself to a grinder's role, which is not a job description becomming of his talent level.

One of the worst parts of his 2008-2009 season was that he was no longer effective, playing next to Kovalev. Where as the two had complimented each other so effectively the previous year, last year, Kostitsyn seemed lost playing on the same line as Kovalev. As soon as Carbonneau would put Kostitsyn on a different line, he would start to excel again. Unfortunately for Kostitsyn - and perhaps for Carbonneau - the coach didn't seem to stick with that formula and Andrei was never able to get into a rhythm. Mix all of that on-ice turmoil with his and his brothers' off-ice troubles, and you had one severely sub-par season.

Why he should succeed
Andrei Kostitsyn is without a doubt an incredibly talented player. He is built like and ox - as he demonstrates sparingly with punshing bodychecks - has top flight skating ability and can dangle, at speed, with the best of them. What is missing from his game, in my opinion, is that mental edge that puts him over the top. Kostitsyn is projected as a 40 goal scorer in this league and likely a 65 - 80 point player, but he has yet to put the whole package together and show what he can do.

So far, in training camp, it looks like Andrei is pencilled in on the 1st line next to Gomez and Cammalleri. This means that he is essentially being given the first shot at that 1st line winger spot. It is his spot to lose.

I think that with all the turmoil he went through, on and off the ice last year, that Andrei will come into camp a little wiser and a little more mature. The bumps that he suffered last year should only serve as a stabilizing force for him this year.

Playing on the top line with the best passer on the team, and the best sniper on the team should give Kostitsyn enough ice-time and talented enough linemates to complement his style. If the experiment works out, I can see Andrei cracking the 30 goal mark, this year - maybe going 30 - 30. He has the skills and he has the ability, all he has to do is pull it all together, on the ice, and grow up a little off of it!

K.

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