Monday, October 10, 2022

As time passed, Kostin trade seemed more and more likely

Commentary by Lou Korac

With each passing day and as potential skaters in search for a job in a crowded lineup for the Blues continued to pass him on the depth chart, Klim Kostin's days in St. Louis slowly became numbered.

On Sunday, that number came to a head when the 2017 first-round pick was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for defensive prospect Dmitri Samorukov, a third-round selection by the Oilers in the same draft class.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Klim Kostin (37) scores against the Minnesota Wild in a preseason game
last week. Kostin was traded Sunday to the Edmonton Oilers.

Call it a trade of giving each 23-year-old a fresh start, and all the signs point to that very thought, but let's look at it from a Blues perspective before we take a look at the defenseman the Blues acquired.

I remember when the Blues drafted Kostin in Chicago, first acquiring the pick along with Oskar Sundqvist from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Ryan Reaves, and I kept thinking to myself who the Blues could potentially get as a terrific value after selecting Robert Thomas with the 20th pick. I remember the great Bob McKenzie talking at the time about who remained on the board for teams to select as the first round was winding down, and I remember distinctly him talking about Kostin and how he could be a steal for someone because had it not been for a shoulder injury Kostin suffered earlier in the year while playing in Russia, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward would have gone much earlier in the first round, potentially as a top-10 pick or close.

The Blues were able to get Kostin at No. 31, the final pick of the first round, and the timeline for the project was on.

The Blues were slowly able to nurture Kostin, ingratiating him into the North American style of hockey, first at San Antonio of the American Hockey League as an 18-year-old in a foreign country for two seasons. 

Kostin got his first taste of the NHL in November of 2019 as a brief call-up for four games and scored his first NHL goal against the Nashville Predators Nov. 23, 2019, but his stay was brief and the development continued in the AHL.

He had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 67 games in his first season with the Rampage in 2017-18; not bad by all accounts but not great either. We have to take into account that he's young and raw and that the Blues could and were willing to be patient with the progression.
There would be two more seasons in San Antonio, combined with two years of representing Russia at the World Juniors in 2017 and 2018, but the Blues were prepared to be as patient as they could until they felt like the player could one day be ready for full time NHL duty.

Kostin's third and final season in San Antonio gained some traction with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 48 regular-season games, but then COVID-19 played havoc on not only his life but the world's, but for Kostin's in particular, he spent 2020-21 in Russia playing in the KHL for Avangard Omsk, winning a Gagarin Cup, Russia's version of the Stanley Cup.

Kostin finally got his real shot at making the NHL roster last season, and he did so out of training camp, playing in 40 games in St. Louis, but after scoring two goals in his season debut Oct. 18 at Arizona, he would finish with nine points (four goals, five assists) and not really making much of an impact the way the Blues wanted or needed.

Coach Craig Berube would address Kostin's progression and play when asked, and the common theme was that the Blues needed him to play a north-south game, use his big body to hold onto and protect pucks and park his rear end in front of the net and develop as a power forward.

Unfortunately, there was too much zig and zag and not enough straight line play, and eventually, the Blues would assign Kostin to Springfield of the AHL last season, never to see the NHL last year again.

It was almost a sign as the beginning of the end then, and even though Kostin went up to Massachusetts and was part of the Thunderbirds' run to the Calder Cup Final, it was pretty clear even at the time that at 22 going into age 23, Kostin's make-or-break career with the Blues would be this year.

The Blues would give Kostin a one-year, $750,000 one-way contract, a sign that they were ready to say this is it, show yourself or there are others that will.

Well, Jake Neighbours (first round, 2020) came along, Zachary Bolduc (first round, 2021) came along, even though he has since been returned to his junior team in Quebec this season; Alexey Toropchenko came along, and heck, now even Nikita Alexandrov (second round, 2019) came along, players within the system that were drafted that certainly have made respective marks within the organization.

But as training camp was moving along, I asked Berube recently about Kostin's play and his remarks were telling.

"He's got to do more," Berube said. "He's got to show us a little bit more, he's got to get engaged more in the games. I'm not seeing enough yet."

In other words, "your time is running out kid. Either show us something quickly, or perhaps it's time to cut the cord."

And that cord was finally cut on Sunday, two days after the Blues put Kostin on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to Springfield.

There's no doubt Kostin has ability; I've seen it. There's raw talent there, but until he realized he's not Connor McDavid, who he may very well share a sheet of ice with, then being an every day NHL player is going to be a long shot. 

I've seen Kostin have moments, such as one recently in a preseason game against Minnesota in which he used his physical presence to lay a good, hard, clean hit that resulted in an end-of-period scrum, and he would go on to score a nice close range goal later on. And you say to yourself that this kid can play like this consistently but doesn't. He's got solid hands, a long reach and a strong body; use it to your advantage.

Instead, he almost tried to play like Jordan Kyrou instead, and that wasn't going to work, and the Blues finally feel like their time invested was not going to pay off.

As for Samorukov, he's also 23, and probably in need of a change.

Reporters in Edmonton say that the 6-3, 188-pound left-handed shot was behind a glutton of defensemen and that cracking the NHL roster would have been tough.
(Edmonton Oilers file photo)
The Blues are hoping defenseman Dmitri Samorukov can develop
with a change of scenery after being traded to St. Louis on Sunday.

Perhaps there's a chance of scenery that will do a player good, too, and with the Blues' left-handed d-men depth dwindling with Marco Scandella (right hip joint) and Scott Perunovich (shoulder) down for most, if not all of the season, Samorukov will get the opportunity to grow.

Coincidentally, his NHL debut came against the Blues last season on Dec. 29, 2021 and he played in just four first-period shifts and was a minus-2; one of them thanks to Kyrou's quick hitch-and-go before scoring in the first period:

I think in the end, each team got what it wanted. The Oilers will not give Kostin an opportunity to grow within their organization, and the Blues will give Samorukov the chance to ascend up the chain. 

Right now it's not one of those trades you grade in the spur of the moment but more down the line. Right now, it's a win-win for each side. It's just too bad Kostin didn't develop that power forward mentality, because his style could have suited the Blues well for many, many years. Maybe something will click in the Oilers organization, because the Blues have spent a lot of, quite frankly more than enough, time and energy with his development.

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