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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Most Impressive Prospects At Camp

By JD Lagrange – It’s still early on, but since the Rookie Camp and the start of the Canadiens’ main Training Camp, we have been given the opportunity to see some pretty amazing performances by several of the team’s top prospects. And we’re not talking about just one or two here.

In fact, for the purpose of this article, I originally wanted to do a top-5 of the most impressive prospects so far. But I simply couldn’t narrow it down to only five. I was leaving some guy who arguably could be on that list so I decided to do a top-10. Then, it left two young men who are also having a good camp, so I had to stretch it to the top-12! Never have I ever felt the need to go that deep during training camp talking about prospects!

12- Jan Mysak (2020 round 2 #48 overall by Montreal)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this 20 year-old center reminds me a lot of Tomas Plekanec. He’s not as noticeable as others because he’s not flashy, plus he’s been given third line assignments more often than not. But he is efficient at both ends of the ice and killed penalties against the New Jersey Devils. He still needs some maturing in the AHL… as did Plekanec back then.

11- Xavier Simoneau (2021 round 6 #191 overall by Montreal)

At 21 years of age, the 5-foot 7-inches, 178 lbs forward has displayed a rare combination of speed and skills set. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, but he has performed beyond my personal expectations that I had of him. He won’t crack this year’s line-up, but he could definitely surprise many within the next couple of years.

10- Mattias Norlinder (2019 round 3 #64 overall by Montreal)
Mattias Norlinder

We sometimes forget that he’s only 22 years old, do we? While he still has some stuff to work on in the defensive zone, I absolutely love the way he quaterbacks a power play. It’s particularly true when they use the umbrella system, with him at the high point. Good vision, he has this ability of finding the passing lanes. His decision-making needs to improve in his zone, as well as his coverage.

9- Antoine Coulombe (camp invitee, undrafted)

The 20 year-old goaltender from Montmagny, Quebec, played for the Shawinigan Cataractes. He was released by the Canadiens prior to their exhibition game against New Jersey. While I fully understand why he was cut, I thought that he could be have been a good option for Trois-Rivières on a AHL/ECHL two-way contract. But I left him on my list because he was, in my humble opinion, a very pleasant surprise.

8- Emil Heineman (2020 round 2 #43 overall by Florida)

Acquired in the Ben Chiarot trade at the last trade deadline, Heineman has been very impressive by his 200-foot game. He has been a threat on offense, and has made some good defensive plays too. We know that Kent Hughes had high praise for the 20 year-old after trading for him, but Martin St-Louis seems to appreciate him just as much.

“We’re trying to build something that is going to bring continued success. From what we see from [Heineman], we see a guy that could be part of that.” ~ Martin St-Louis.

7- Arber Xhekaj (undrafted, signed by Montreal)

His name is on everyone’s lips, even living rent-free in the Ottawa Senators’ fans minds since he took out two of their prospects in a rookie game in Buffalo. He’s big (6’4″, 238 lbs), he’s mobile, he hits hard and, as Sens’ prospect Zachary Massicotte found out, dropping the gloves against the 21 year-old could be a huge mistake. He had a good camp last year, which earned him a contract, and he’s picked up where he left off.

6- Kaiden Guhle (2020 round 1 #16 overall by Montreal)

Guhle didn’t play in the rookie tournament in Buffalo and has just recently taken part of scrimmages and games. The 20 year-old rearguard is displaying great skating abilities for a big man and his poise, maturity and decision-making at such a young age are what distinguish him from the rest. Don’t be shocked if he sticks with the Canadiens to start the season.

5- Jesse Ylönen (2018 round 2 #35 overall by Montreal)

Ylönen will turn 23 on October 3rd, and he is making a case to stay in Montreal so far. No, he’s not lighting the lamp but every time he’s on the ice, he displays some good attributes. His game suits the NHL game and his vision and anticipation are a notch above most prospects. In Laval, he showed what he can do on the power play with his one-timer, but he’s also sound defensively. I’m personally hoping that he can crack the line-up as he has more to show.

4- Jordan Harris (2018 round 3 #71 overall by Montreal)

He played ten games at the end of last year and the 22 year-old looked good. He’s having a very solid camp, showing the poise of a player much older. Good skater, he has struggled a bit on some aspects when they tried him on the right side, but he shows being adaptable. Good puck-mover with an active stick in the defensive zone, he won’t outmuscle anyone but positions himself to be effective.

3- Filip Mesar (2022 round 1 #26 overall by Montreal)

Often referred to as the “other first round pick”, or Robin to Slafkovsky (Batman) according to Chris Wideman, the 18 year-old Slovak is cool as a cucumber so far. Often a threat in the offensive zone, he likes having the puck on his stick and, for the most part, makes the right decisions with it already. Admittedly, he feels like he will need a year or two as he states being able to skate with these guys, but feels like they’re big and strong! He wants to bulk up.

2- Juraj Slafkovsky (2022 round 1 #1 overall by Montreal)

Obviously, he needs no introduction. The first overall pick at the last NHL Draft is taking some heat from a few fans because he’s not lighting the lamp. But hockey people will tell you that he’s very impressive. Strong, he uses his big body to protect the puck and separate himself from checks. What I wasn’t expecting is hove fast the 6-foot 3-inches, 238 lbs winger really is. Listening to him in an interview at the intermission of the exhibition against New Jersey, he’s not happy with his play… yet. This augurs well as he wants to be the best out there. But please Habs’ fans, keep your expectations in check!

1- Owen Beck (2022 round 2 #33 overall by Montreal)

He’s the talk of town right now, and rightfully so. The 18 year-old, second round pick at the last NHL Draft is taking everyone by surprise so far. Great of faceoffs, he stands out at both ends of the ice. And he’s earned every opportunities he’s received, being put into situations to showcase what he can do. He will most likely return to the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL with a list of things to work on, similarly to what the Canadiens did with Nick Suzuki at the same age.

Miscellaneous

An honourable mention to another camp invitee, John Parker-Jones 6-foot 7-inches, 230 lbs defenseman who played the rookie tournament on right-wing. Could be a good option for Trois-Rivières on a AHL/ECHL two-way?

Good prospects not making the list:

Some of the team’s very good prospects present at camp have not made the cut thus far. But we all know that they have the skills to turn things around. Justin Barron (he had a good exhibition game against the Devils), Logan Mailloux (injured), William Trudeau, Otto Leskinen, Joshua Roy, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Riley Kidney have a bright future ahead of them and some still have a shot at impressing.

Good prospects not present:

And there are other very, very good prospects who, for various reasons, were not at camp this year, but they will be in the future. Lane Hutson, Adam Engström, Jayden Struble, Vinzenz Rohrer, Sean Farrell, Jakub Dobes and Frederik Dichow are some of the team’s good prospects.

The Canadiens current have 11 more picks at the 2023 NHL Draft, including two first rounders: the Flames in the Monahan trade, and their own. Can we say that the future is bright?

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