Knights score in import draft

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:16 PM ET

The London Knights forays into the import draft have been, to be kind, not very good in recent years.

So, it's come to be that not much is expected.

Then along comes Sergei Kostitsyn. The 18-year-old Belarussian has flown in under the radar.

The 55th player selected in the import draft has been more than a surprise, he's been a revelation. And just at a time when a rebuilding team could benefit from a real prize in the box of Cracker Jack.

So it's only exhibition play and most of the big boys are playing in the big leagues, but the short time Kostitsyn has been with the team has been impressive.

In his first game with the Knights, he notched four assists. He then left for the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp. His older brother, Andrei, was a first-round pick of the Canadiens.

Kostitsyn returned for last night's exhibition game against the Mississauga IceDogs. It was the sixth and final exhibition game for the Knights with the teams finishing in a 5-5 tie. The Knights ran their record to 1-1-4.

But it took Kostitsyn little more than eight minutes to get back on the scoreboard. He fired a shot from the blueline that was tipped by Adam Perry for the Knights' first goal. Moments later, he threaded a pass while on one foot to a streaking Kelly Thomson. Thomson missed, but it was a heck of a pass. Kostitsyn then assisted on a goal by Jamie Vanderveeken. He scored a great goal in the practice shootout.

The straight goods on Kostitsyn are much the same as other Europeans.

"He can skate and sees the ice very well and he has a big shot," said Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry.

But Kostitsyn has another ingredient which some Europeans are missing.

"He plays with some grit," said Perry. "He's going to be one of our top six forwards even when everyone gets back."

To punctuate that point, Kostitsyn picked up a pair of penalties. But it was something Kostitsyn did in that first exhibition game which impressed Perry. Sarnia Sting's Mark Lytwyn-Versteeg almost took Kostitsyn's head off with a check.

"Most players would have packed it in for the game and said 'that's it,' " said Perry. "But he came right back."

Kostitsyn speaks almost no English. Not only does he have to survive a hockey environment he's unfamiliar with, he's thousands of kilometres from home. The Knights are bringing in an English tutor and have hired a translator.

"We've got to know what he's thinking," said Perry. "Whether he likes the city, his landparents. From what he hear so far, he's happy."

Denis Pronin is translating for Kostitsyn. Pronin is a 17-year-old from Yekaterinburg in central Russia. He's been in London for more than a year and attends Catholic Central.

"I like the team very much," said Kostitsyn. "But the game is much faster and the players bigger than I've played against. Here, everyone has to hit, so I have to hit, too."

Kostitsyn smiles when asked what his strengths are.

"I'm like (all Europeans,) I skate and shoot the puck. I like to score goals," he said.

Kostitsyn spent some time with his brother at the Montreal camp, but he was clear when asked if he'd asked his brother for advice.

"He doesn't ask me about how he should play. I don't ask him about how I should play," he laughed.

Finding a skilled forward at a time when skill is supposed to be the focus in this new hockey world, would provide a huge boost for the Knights. Judging by the amount of time that's going to be spent on the powerplay, Kostitsyn will love it here.

If he keeps playing the way he's playing now, the feeling will be mutual.


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