Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Andrei Kostitsyn

The numbers

78 GP: 26 G, 27 A, 53 Pts, 29 PIM, +15, 156 Shots

Career best year
This season

2007-08 playoffs
12 GP: 5 G, 3 A, 8 Pts, 2 PIM, -4, 25 Shots

Career best playoffs
Rookie (same as above)

Plays of the game: 19

Game pucks: 4

Domes: 30

3 Star selections: 4 First, 2 Second, 4 Third

The story

Where he started the season
Was Andrei going to be the next Perezhogin? I think that most fans had higher hopes for Kostitsyn than they did for Alexander, but this season was make or break time for the 22 year-old. He finished 2006-07 quite well for a rookie with 10 points in his last 15 games, so we felt his spot would be assured prior to the season, but would he stay? His potential had been showing through in flashes from Canadiens games, to Bulldogs scoring to Belarussian national team outings. As we pointed out a few times, what made Andrei the most intriguing of all Canadiens prospects coming into this season could be summed up in a single thought:
"What sets him apart from other players is his ability to handle the puck at top speed."
If you ever wanted to know what drafting forwards was all about, that sentence should cover about 80% of it for you. It is a special skill, and a necessary one for any player hoping to be a top forward in the NHL. The fact that Andrei had speed as well, was surely a bonus that we thought could pay off in big ways coming into the season.

The season
The season didn't start too great for Kostitsyn, at least not statistically. He looked like he belonged in the NHL, but we obviously needed to give him time; afterall he was only 22.
He would start the year alongside Kovalev and Grabovski – an entire trio all looking to prove that they deserved their spots, and ice-time, in Montreal. Andrei started the year as our most dangerous prospect as his electrifying moves and speed eclipsed those of fellow baby-Habs Latendresse, Chipchura and Grabovski. When Carbonneau eventually decided that Grabovski's time on the 2nd line had come to an end, he kept Andrei there as he must have seen some sort of chemistry between him and his big-brother figure: Alex Kovalev. Once Plekanec took his rightful spot on their line, the trio never looked back. Their play as a line was fantastic, but early-on it was Kovalev and Plekanec who were posting the points, not Kostitsyn.

Throughout the first 23 games, of the year Andrei only had 3 goals and 8 points (a full-season pace of 11 goals and 29 points). Now, for a youngster still learning the North American game and in his first full year in the NHL those numbers could have been worse. What we all had hoped for for so long, however, was just about to happen, with almost no warning. In early December, Gainey called up Andrei's young brother and, in doing so, gained two top line forwards.

What the addition of Sergei did for Andrei was truly amazing. Whether it made Andrei happier, more competitive or more comfortable is something that is hard to discern (as he's not the most expressive player around). They weren't playing together on game nights, but the change in Andrei was tangible and instantaneous. During his last 55 games, Andrei would post vastly improved numbers – 23 goals and 45 points (a full-season pace of 34 goals and 67 points). He had, seemingly overnight, become a household name in the NHL and was quite possibly our most dangerous goal-scorer from that point forward. What's more, he was taking on defenders, leading the line of attack and most importantly: shooting.

Highlights: Our first true highlight-reel player (developed in the system) in some time

Andrei Kostitsyn by the numbers: Canadiens.com

Lions' links on Andrei Kostitsyn:
Want to see the Belarussian line?
From Belarus With Love
The Habs future and the two Andreis – Part 2: Andrei the Younger
Plan K: Turning around the Canadiens fortunes
Gainey's formula: Keep Prices stable, increase Kosts
From 0 to 96 With Time to Spare
The SK74 Era: Lions Reader Sheds Light on Habs Stats Since December
Gainey Does Admirably

Grade: A
Andrei's season from December onwards (including the playoffs) was really A+ material when you think about it. It provided a case study of why sticking with a prospect and instilling confidence in him can pay huge dividends. Over the season, Kostitsyn bloomed into a complete top-line force this season and it was incredible to watch. His passing was superb, he scored highlight-reel goals on a regular basis and played the type of game you would associate with the Montreal Canadiens. He proved he can be tough when he has to, throw hits if it means getting the puck, and more importantly was lightning-quick and had hands and a shot that were truly world-class. In a season where so many Habs players exceeded expectations, I think Andrei was the biggest, and most pleasant surprise of all (of course, Topham would have you believe he is not surprised at all, but if not, he is nothing but pleased). In Kostitsyn, we have finally found a true goalscorer, something which we have longed for for more than a decade. And, at last, we can boast about scoring, with one of the best 1-2 goal-scoring punches in the league.

Where we'd have him next season
Kostitsyn was rightfully rewarded for his spectacular season with a significant raise that will keep him a Hab for at least 3 more seasons. 3.25M/season is a steal for a player of his ability and potential – if you don't believe me, review what other types of players make that much. There is no doubt that he will be on one of our top two lines, the only question is – with whom? Will he go back to playing with Plekanec and Kovalev on a line that enjoyed incredible amounts of success? Or may he be teamed up with his brother as they do have an undeniable chemistry. All I can say is that is nice to have that as one of your team's biggest questions going into a season.

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