2017 first-round pick continuing to learn language barrier, culture,
North American game with target goal of reaching NHL still in view
ST. LOUIS -- Klim Kostin stood in front of a limited number of media members Friday awaiting to test his English-speaking skills.
The Russian power forward, one of two first-round picks by the Blues in the 2017 NHL Draft, had a crutch if needed to help him understand and/or answer a question if he didn't understand something.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
The Blues are taking a patient approach when it comes to
2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin.
Turns out the 20-year-old from Penza, Russia didn't need any help on this day from fellow Russian Alexey Toropchenko, on hand as a translator if needed, but Kostin in fact got a lot of Russian help, or lack thereof, in his two seasons with San Antonio of the American Hockey League.
What's been the secret? He said watching movies is one but also, "No Russian guys on team," Kostin said. "It's helping."
The English is still broken, naturally, but Kostin held his own in his first English-speaking interview in St. Louis since he was drafted, and the Blues are hoping that the patience he's displaying crafting the language translates to what can be a promising career on the ice.
Kostin, who scored twice in the White's 9-5 win over the Blue in Friday's final scrimmage, concluded his third prospect camp this week.
Some may find that surprising that the 31st pick, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Oskar Sundqvist for Ryan Reaves and a 2017 second-round pick, would return for another camp with prospects after being here the past two seasons and knocking on the NHL door. But the Blues are doing this right. They're nurturing this kid, they're being patient, they're allowing him to develop and they're doing it at a proper pace.
"His age. Just his age," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player development and pro scout. "It's hard because we've put him in an environment at 18 and 19 where he's playing against men and we're expecting him to hang around guys that are 25, 28, that have kids, they have family. We've taken him out of that, kind of his own environment, his own kind of atmosphere where he can just be a kid. Sometimes you take the confidence out of them too at that young age and expectations are high, so I wanted to put him back in an environment where he's around kids his own age and he can talk about the same things, have the same interests, and at the same time, hopefully instill a lot more confidence in him. Not to say he didn't have confidence, but now you can see on the ice like he understands like, 'OK, this is where I'm at. I am real good. I am strong.' I thought it was a real good week for him.
"... Kostin looks really good (this week). He's only 20 years old. I think that we all forget that he is only 20. He's still one of the youngest kids out on the ice. He almost looks like a man amongst boys."
Kostin, whose father has been with him the past two seasons helping him get acclimated to a lifestyle in a new country, is also following the patient route.
He was a Black Ace recalled by the Blues during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which culminated into the franchise's first Cup championship, and he got a glimpse and taste of what he can perhaps experience himself in the future. So staying the course and making that development count is what's on Kostin's mind.
"I just try to change my game last two years from Russian style to American style," Kostin said. "I think it's successful."
What is the biggest difference from adjusting to a wider ice surface in Russia?
"More hits on ice," Kostin said. "It's a big difference than Russian hockey, more speed guys, more shooting.
"Size is different. That's why American hockey is like a little faster than Russian."
Kostin is coming off a 24-point season (10 goals, 14 assists) for the Rampage in 66 regular-season games last season. His minus-28 rating is something he mentioned and served notice to. And after a 28-point season (six goals, 22 assists) in 67 regular-season games his rookie season in 2017-18, some impatient fans have questioned whether Kostin will develop into the player they had heard about since being drafted.
Taylor explains why they believe it will still happen.
"Here's the easiest way to put it for a fan's perspective: in 2011, we drafted Jordan Binnington. In 2019, Jordan Binnington is in the NHL and the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup winner," Taylor said. "I know a goalie takes a little bit longer, but at the same time, we don't want to put Klim Kostin in the NHL, send him down, bring him up, send him down. He's taking steps. He's almost at the highest part of the mountain. He's getting there. He's getting closer. When he comes up, he's going to be a Blue for a long time."
Imagine going from a Russian lifestyle to all of the sudden, being drafted by an NHL team, then picking your life up and moving it to San Antonio, Texas, which is a 21-hour, 40-minute flight and takes two days by plane. It would be hard for anyone, let alone a teenager.
It helps when players are receptive to Kostin's situation and in the words of Rampage captain Chris Butler, they had to help him order pizza.
"I appreciate what the guys helped me first year," Kostin said. "They help me everywhere every day. I just try talk with everybody on the team. There's no Russian on the team. That's helped me to learn English.
"Yeah, (I feel) like more than comfortable (now)."
Bottom line: it takes time.
"You're coming from a different country," Taylor said. "If you took us, took myself or anyone else at 18 and put them in Russia and expectations that you're going to play at the KHL level and you're going to live in a different place and a fully different environment, you're a two-day flight from getting back home to seeing your family, you're worlds apart. For him at that age to come over here and to do what he's done, you talk to our San Antonio coaching staff, they thought that his growth and development took a huge step, especially at the end of last year, the second half of last year. His points weren't maybe what we would have expected, but at the end of the day, it wasn't about points. It was about playing North American hockey, playing the right way, playing under a team concept and then his skill level will take over.
"The biggest step isn't coming from the AHL to the NHL. The biggest step is going from junior hockey to the AHL. It's a big step."
Kostin has learned to not only hone his skills here, but he's also developed that physical edge to him. Listed as 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Kostin was never asked to throw his weight around in Russia. He is here.
"I got in a couple of fights after somebody from the other team hit our guys," said Kostin, who had 102 penalty minutes last season. "I can't not fight this guy after he like crush our guy."
Kostin, who is expected to have a more prominent role with the Rampage this season, could finally make inroads as to being a potential factor on the Blues roster at some point, whether it be a recall or if his play improves that drastically, a permanent place. But if it doesn't happen for 2019-20, the 2020-21 season could very well be the time.
Taylor said the obstacles that lie ahead are simple.
"I would just say understanding the right way to play the game. He's getting there," Taylor said. "It's turnovers that young kids ... hope plays they try to make and understanding that one goal, yes, it's a mistake, but one goal makes a difference in a hockey game, and this isn't just about having fun anymore. This is a career. The guys that he's playing with expect him to do the right things too because they lose ice time. It's a man's game and all you want is these young kids to grow into and understand what it takes to play at this level.
"It happens to all of us, whether you're playing in North America or playing over there. At the same time, we also forget that he also missed three-quarters of the year, his draft year, too. He missed a huge, productive year for his development at that age. If you put it back there, he's still only a 19-year-old kid. We've had very few at this stage play at 19. Everyone thought ... Jordan Kyrou has some growth in his game. Sammy Blais is now going on his fourth year and is now really starting to produce at the NHL level. Robby Thomas (also a first-round pick in 2017, the 20th pick) was one of the few that come up when he was 19, Robby Fabbri came in when he was 19. Unfortunately his injuries have set him back, but it's tough for young kids. It's really tough to play a man's game. I was a player and young kids come up, you're not just stepping aside, 'Hey, kid, take my job. I'm going to leave now. Here's my $2 million dollars.' They have to be pushed out of the way. It's really tough for these young kids and for the remedy to grasp what it's all about, it takes a long time."
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Klim Kostin spoke in St. Louis for the first time this week at prospect camp
and spoke of his progression, still learning English language and his
desire to work his way to the NHL.
So in the meantime, Kostin said he simply needs to continue to put the work in. He'll have a Russian (Toropchenko) with him in San Antonio to continue helping smooth over the transition.
"I got to learn the language and just listening to coach and doing what he want of me," Kostin said. "... I came to St. Louis and watched the first two rounds, and after that St. Louis let me go home. It's amazing to me when you watch the (playoff) hockey. It's amazing for me. It's like so speedy, tough. I'll always be the power forward. I try to be like power forward in the NHL in the future.
"I think everybody has a chance to make the team. I just should keep working hard. And just show St. Louis what I can do. And ready for next season for NHL."