Dmitri Kostenko – The Russian Dilemma

By Bob Trask – Dimitri Kostenko was was chosen by the Montreal Canadiens in the 3rd round of the 2021 Draft after a year that saw him split time between the VHL and the MHL. The VHL is Russia’s second highest men’s pro hockey league after the KHL while the MHL is a junior league. He is a right shot defenseman, a position that has a dearth of good talent across the NHL.

In the past three seasons, he put up 38 points in 44 junior games and 24 points in 88 pro games. If you consider that the VHL might be considered the AHL of Russia and that Kostenko began his pro career at age 17, putting up those kinds of numbers is no small achievement. He was a boy playing in a man’s league.

This season Kostenko has been loaned to Kunlun Red Star (Beijing) of the KHL, which curiously plays in the western division of the KHL despite being 6,000 km east of Moscow. Kostenko is now 20 years old and is playing in what is considered to be the 2nd best league in the world.

A Closer Look

The website habsprospects.com is a good resource for following prospects in the Canadiens organization. A quick look shows that Kostenko’s usage has been erratic with ice time of around two minutes in a couple of games, to over 13 minutes, and as high as 17 minutes in others. After 11 games, he has averaged 8:51 per game. He has one goal and his +/- is a respectable -1 on one of the worst teams in the league.

It has been said the Russians often sit their young talent in favour of veterans thus hindering their development, as they did with Alexander Romanov if you recall. Whether or not that is the case with Kostenko remains to be seen.

Kostenko is signed through to April 2024 with Spartak Moscow and the Canadiens must sign him by June 1, 2025 to retain his rights.

The Wild Card

Of course the extra wild card in the situation is the worldwide geopolitical situation that can be described as extremely unstable, at best. Recent events in Russia have only exacerbated the situation. Will Kostenko seek an early exit from Russia and would the Canadiens want to see him in North America sooner rather than later are questions that we don’t know the answer to. And it would be unfair to Kostenko to seek his comments a this point in time.

The Final Analysis

Dmitri Kostenko plays a position where there always seems to be a shortage of talent. As a 20 year old who stands 6-1 and weighs 187 pounds he has the frame to play high level pro hockey. He has also exhibited offensive abilities at the junior level. One risk is that his progress could stagnate with little ice time while playing on a weak team. The other risk is that the entire situation with Russia could become so untenable that the possibility of him playing in North America drops dramatically.

Ideally, Kostenko would be playing in Laval this year where they could use some depth on right defense. It would give him a chance to become familiar with North American culture, the smaller ice surfaces and the Canadiens’ organization. Unfortunately that ship has sailed and it won’t be back for next season either. The best we can hope for is that he continues to develop his hockey skills and exhibits a desire to play in North America when he is free to do so.

In the meantime Dmitri Kostenko flies under the radar among Habs prospects as he plies his trade in Beijing. As fans, we can continue to follow his game by game progress on habsprospects.com.

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