Seems like everyone is ready to give up on not just Sergei Kostitsyn these days, but his slow-starting brother Andrei as well. He's become the new whipping boy for the team in the press, as well as among a large section of the fans. Despite not apologizing for the false report of criminal activity last year, the Francophone portion of the media haven't cut him any slack either. To be fair, Andrei really isn't doing himself any favours with 1 goal and 3 assists over 12 games, but to run a 24 year old top 10 draft pick out of town in his 3rd full NHL season is just not smart.
Kostitsyn has the unfortunate tag of being a top pick in the highly coveted 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and even worse, the guy picked right after him is Jeff Carter, who scored 46 goals last season. This leaves a sour taste in the mouths of Habs fans over what could have been. Many are bitter that despite producing many solid NHL players for the last 9 or so drafts, we have yet to bring in and keep a super star. It's for this very reason however, that I think it's very unwise to get too down on our Belorussian who's on the big club.
It's easy for everyone to see that Andrei Kostitsyn is very talented, he's a great skater, he's physical, and he has one of the best wrist shots I've seen in the NHL. When watching Kostitsyn it's easy to see a game-breaker in the future, but many don't believe he'll ever hit his potential. I'd like to illustrate a parallel here that might change some minds.
I think it's fairly accepted that while AHL experience is good, NHL experience is much more valuable, especially to European born players. Because Jeff Carter was picked right after Kostitsyn, he's often the most lamented miss by Gainey since he came aboard. Well Carter came into the NHL earlier than Kostitsyn, so I think it's necessary that we look at the first few years in the NHL for both of them and see if there's a massive difference in production.
1st season [05-06] GP - 81, G - 23, A - 19, P - 42, +10, Shots - 189, Sh% - 12.17
A very solid rookie year, breaking the 20 goal barrier at a young age and showing promise defensively as a +10 on a pretty good team. Played against secondary defenders as the Gagne - Forsberg - Knuble line drew the other team's top defense pairings most nights.
2nd season [06-07] GP - 62, G - 14, A - 23, P - 37, -17, Shots - 215, Sh% - 6.51
A slight regression offensively on a team that took a nosedive. Lingering ankle injury surely hampered performance. Took a lot more shots with more responsibility, but shooting % took a massive nosedive. Defensive play likely looks worse than it is as Philadelphia is the worst team in the league.
3rd season [07-08] GP - 82, G - 29, A - 24, P - 53, +6, Shots - 260, Sh% - 11.15
Big jump in goals as injury woes are put behind, but a fairly large regression in assists. The regression and injury problems of Carter and Richards made overzealous new GM Holmgren sign Daniel Briere to a massive contract to shore up the center position after Forsberg was traded. Defensive play looks a lot better as the team improves by leaps and bounds. Took slightly less shots per game, but to greater effectiveness. Learning to pick his spots.
4th season [08-09] GP - 82, G - 46, A - 38, P - 84, +23, Shots - 342, Sh% - 13.45
With Briere injured Carter takes the opportunity to break out offensively. A massive improvement in every category, firing more shots to even greater efficiency. Steps into elite status in the NHL. Makes a lot of Montreal fans very angry.
1st season [07-08] GP - 78, G - 26, A - 27, P - 53, +15, Shots - 156, Sh% - 16.67
A very solid rookie season. Matches Carter's 3rd year in points in his first year, while playing better at even strength and shooting less. Played on one of the best lines in the NHL in the last half of the season with Kovalev in Plekanec. Most reviews of Kostitsyn are entirely positive, with the one suggestion that he shoot much more to take advantage of his powerful wrister. 3 more goals, 8 more assists, than Carter's respective rookie season while playing against top defenders.
2nd season [08-09] GP - 74, G - 23, A - 18, P - 41, -7, Shots - 169, Sh% - 13.61
A noticeable regression in all categories except shots. A head injury to start the year slows him down for quite awhile. After going on an offensive tear in mid-season a "scandal" breaks in the news involving him and his little brother, and his play drops off big time. Numbers also suffer as the entire team struggles offensively as compared to the season before, and chemistry doesn't seem to exist.
Everyone is all over Kostitsyn right now as he's struggling to produce, and many find him to be lazy or invisible on the ice. Not that it's a great comparison, but Brett Hull was also seen this way. Hull was often completely invisible during games until he scored, then scored a couple more times. Kostitsyn isn't the same kind of player Tomas Plekanec is, he likes to sneak in behind the play and do something dynamic. He may never muck it up in the corners the way some want him too, even though he has the physical ability to do it. In the 2007 offseason Paul Holmgren was so unsatisfied with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter's progression that he went out and overpaid Daniel Briere, a move that is now really hurting the Flyers long term. In Montreal would we have been any different with Carter than how we treat Kostitsyn? Had we drafted Jeff Carter with the 10th overall pick in 2003, and he took the same path of progression that he has taken, would we have been patient with him as a young prospect, or thrown him to the wolves? It's impossible to say, but we need to make sure that hindsight isn't 20/20 on Kostitsyn in just a few short years, we need to have some foresight and recognize that players take different amounts of time to get to their prime. It's possible, even likely that by the end of this year Kostitsyn will break the 30 goal barrier for the first time, and next year we have no clue what the limit could be. With the parallels to Carter's NHL progression, we may be sitting (and shitting) on the next superstar for the Montreal Canadiens. Patience please...
All images courtesy of Habsinsideout.com/Montreal Gazette