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2017 NHL Draft: The Mystery of Klim Kostin

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Do you want the Leafs to take a gamble?

2016 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you’ve been reading the site in the last few weeks—or the hockey Internet in general—you’ll probably start to have an idea about which prospects you’re interested in in the mid-first round. (If you’re still feeling it out, all good! Start with our collection of profiles here.)

Maybe you want to go for the small offensive wizard in Kailer Yamamoto, or a smooth puck mover like Erik Brannstrom. Maybe you want a big two-way defender like Nic Hague, or a sure shot like Lias Andersson. You can get a feel for all these players, and their pros and cons.

And then, there’s Klim Kostin, and no one’s quite sure what to make of him.

The Basics & The Numbers

Klim Kostin

 Season Team League GP G A TP PIM      Playoffs GP G A TP PIM 
 Season Team League GP G A TP PIM      Playoffs GP G A TP PIM 
 2014-2015 Dynamo Moskva U16 Russia U16 33 35 31 66 46 |
Dynamo Moskva U16 Russia U16 Finals 5 4 2 6 6 |
Russia U16 (all) International-Jr 4 4 0 4 10 |
Russia U17 (all) International-Jr 4 0 0 0 0 |
 2015-2016 Dynamo Moskva U17 Russia U17 10 10 5 15 18 |
HK MVD Balashikha MHL 30 8 13 21 74 |
Russia U17 WHC-17 6 2 3 5 16 |
Russia U18 WJC-18 5 0 4 4 4 |
 2016-2017 Russia U18 Hlinka Memorial 5 4 3 7 29 |
Russia U18 |WJAC-19| WJAC-19 3 1 2 3 6 |
Dynamo Moskva KHL 8 0 0 0 27 |
Dynamo Balashikha VHL 9 1 0 1 4 |
HK MVD Balashikha MHL 1 0 1 1 2 |
Russian Selects U20 Jr Super Series 5 1 1 2 8 |
 2017-2018 Dynamo Moskva KHL - - - - - |
Player statistics powered by www.eliteprospects.com

Klim Kostin, which by the way would be a dope name for a bounty hunter in Star Wars, is a power RW out of Russia. He’s 6’3”, 196 lbs., and is by all accounts an offensive monster in his skillset. He’s been working his way up through the Dynamo Moscow system for the last few years, impressing in the MHL (the Russian major junior hockey league) last season and adding some quality performances in international play. Kostin was drafted first overall in the CHL import draft in 2016, but elected to stay in Russia.

Kostin’s most recent season was, bluntly, a terrible disappointment. Kostin got a look with Dynamo Moscow in the KHL and produced no points in nine games; he had a lonely goal and no assists in eight games in the MHL (the Russian second league.) For a 17-year-old to struggle in pro leagues is hardly catastrophic, but in January Kostin suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. So that’s what we have to go on.

This is a shame, because Kostin is widely agreed to be a superlative offensive talent. Almost no one has a bad thing to say about his scoring skillset, although there’s the usual talk from some sources about “inconsistency” (surprise.) Kostin is big, strong, decently mobile, and has a fantastic wrist shot. He can cycle, he can bash, he can snipe, he can do it all. His defensive game is admired by some and tagged as erratic by others, making it hard to say much other than he at least has good capacity to grow in that area.

It may be hard to see why, exactly, Kostin is still being rated as highly as he is—and keep in mind that last fall, he was considered a threat to be drafted top ten. After reading through a number of scouting reports, it seems clear that at times Kostin looks like one of the most dominant young players on the planet. Let’s turn to that.

The Scouts

Future Considerations currently has Kostin ranked 14th. In November, they had some rapturous things to say about him.

A big-bodied power winger with strong work ethic…he can dominate for stretches with his cycle game and puck-protection skills…can carry defenders around the ice with his power and balance, or stickhandle around them with a deke or two as he goes to the net…high-energy guy, always keeps his feet moving…possesses a very quick release and has great shot selection…heads-up player who has a great work ethic and leads by example…works his tail off away from the play to get himself in position to make a play…strong intelligence and sees plays developing around him, knowing how to interject himself to provide the best opportunity…is responsible away from the puck and knows where to be to support his defenders…will be a real beast as he adds even more muscle to his impressive frame.

This gives some idea why people are still high enough to consider Kostin a clear first-rounder, even after a lost season. The references to energy, work ethic, and defensive responsibility are also interesting, given the “inconsistent Russian” tag Kostin gets in other places.

Next up, Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports has his report. Kerr is extremely complimentary, and at length, of Kostin’s “excellent” skating (other sources aren’t nearly so positive.) He also has a long string of positives describing Klim’s offensive game—his passing is creative, his shooting is superb, he can stickhandle, he’s got the grit to fight for space. He ends on this note:

There are games where Kostin is absolutely dominant, and looks like the best player on the ice, and one of the best players in this draft. There are also games where he seems to disappear for long stretches of time.

That theme runs through most of Kerr’s analysis. For readers who are used to Russian players being criticized for “inconsistency”, you might not take that too seriously—but it also has to be noted that at times he disappears from the scoresheet, too.

Dobber Hockey’s Peter Harling has a similar reading.

Kostin has also been plagued by inconsistency, at times showing flashes of dominant upside drawing comparisons to the likes of Evgeni Malkin, and also going through uninspiring stretches where he is difficult to find in the game and has little to no impact.

For a moment, let’s put aside all the issues that make people rightly wary of comparables. If people are describing your offensive game as at all akin to Evgeni Malkin, you’re making a hell of an impression.

PPP C-in-C Scott Wheeler is low on Kostin.

Kostin had a nightmare season and a couple of strong showings in international play aren't enough to mitigate that. There are too many talented players in this draft class for him to be owed realistic respect as a top pick. His size and strength are enticing, but you're taking a huge risk betting on him in the top of the first round (and even where the Leafs are at No. 17).

He's capable with the puck for how big and strong he is, but he's not a strong skater and he gets caught making poor decisions with the puck and trying to do too much when he doesn't have the chops.

I asked Scott further about Kostin’s skating, since Ben Kerr was high on it. As per Scott: “Of all the bigger kids at the top of the class, I'd argue Kostin is at the lower end as a skater. He's got an OK stride, but he doesn't change pace quickly or move well laterally.”

I’ll end with our own Kevin Papetti’s thoughts.

Kostin carries an unusual skill set, and he's tough to project as a result. His calling card is his playmaking, and you just do not see this very often from a big winger. At 6'3, he can dig in and win more than his fair share of battles, and he's strong enough to protect the puck well. Normally, your team's powerplay "runs through" a centre or a smaller skilled winger, yet Kostin stands out in this area. The question becomes: is he good enough to run an NHL powerplay? Or is he simply just good for a winger of his size? His size, work rate, and skill with the puck makes him a clear first round prospect, but it's tough to put him in the top 10-15 after such a down season.

Exciting skillset and lots of uncertainty. That’s Klim Kostin.

Is he the right pick for the Leafs?

The Leafs’ scouting department knows many things that I do not know. About a Russian prospect, if he’s drawn the attention of scouts Nikolai Ladygin or Evgeni Namestnikov, they know very much more than I do. It’s possible they’ve seen enough in Kostin to know that those incredible stretches of dominance are the raw material of a top-six winger. And make no mistake—there is a real chance Kostin is the kind of player who will make a scout look like a genius, if everything goes right.

But with all we don’t know from here, I can’t recommend picking Kostin at 17th overall. We don’t have any good information on him from this season. We haven’t seen him recovered from his injury. We have a kid who once and sometimes looked like a potential top six RW. There’s a range in which Kostin becomes an excellent gamble, and if you have an appetite for risk, it might well be where we’re picking. But I’d pass.