EDMONTON — Klim Kostin has developed a reputation in these parts as a person who doesn’t take things too seriously and likes to have a laugh — whether at his own expense or someone else’s.
Usually that means banter with a teammate. But on Thursday morning, with a throng of reporters waiting around his dressing room stall to speak with him ahead of a matchup against his former team, Kostin couldn’t resist a friendly dig at a veteran scribe.
“I think the fans don’t like your questions,” he told Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson. “On Twitter, I saw it. You need to change something.”
Kostin laughed. It was all in good fun.
But when the subject turned to a serious matter, or at least things that were more substantive, Kostin was much more tight-lipped.
He had little interest in rehashing much from his days with the St. Louis Blues, instead mostly choosing to focus on his new team.
“I just want to prove it to myself that they were wrong,” Kostin said.
Thursday was his first game against the Blues, the team that drafted him in the first round five years ago and traded him to Edmonton on Oct. 9.
Kostin played 8:05, had one shot (an attempt that missed the net), drew a penalty and led the Oilers with four hits in the 4-3 shootout loss. That type of performance has become the norm of late for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound winger.
“He represents a different dimension than what we have here in Edmonton,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “He’s a huge man that plays a fairly simple, straightforward game. He’s at his best when he’s going north and gets physical.
“He’s given us some really good minutes. He’s been a positive addition to our team.”
Kostin has two goals and four points in 15 games as an Oiler, though the counting stats don’t tell the full story.
He’s played exclusively in the bottom six and without time on special teams but has fulfilled the role with aplomb.
Showing a little personality, as he did Thursday morning, has quickly made him a fan favourite. So has the way he’s finished his checks and routinely got under the skin of opponents.
“When he plays to a certain formula, he’s very effective,” Woodcroft said. “Simplicity is his formula for success.”
“I haven’t played really much in the NHL, so I’m still kind of a rookie,” Kostin said. “It’s good for me to start the game the simple way.”
That Kostin is 23 and played in only his 61st NHL game on Thursday speaks to how things didn’t go according to plan in St. Louis.
There was a ton of buzz around him in his draft year, but a season-ending shoulder injury in January popped the balloon. He slid to the last pick of the first round, 31st, in 2017.
Kostin spent most of the next three seasons in the AHL and the 2020-21 campaign in the KHL amid the late start of the NHL season because of the pandemic. After a slow beginning with Avangard Omsk, Kostin improved greatly as that season progressed under the guidance of former NHL bench boss Bob Hartley. Kostin’s said Hartley has been his favourite coach to date.
Any success he had in Russia never fully translated to the Blues. They parted ways with him after training camp.
“I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t have an answer on this,” he said when asked why things didn’t work out in St. Louis. “You need to ask the coaching staff in St. Louis.”
Kostin was traded for Russian defenceman Dmitri Samorukov, his childhood buddy, in October. Both players had cleared waivers and were headed for the minors. It was the classic change-of-scenery deal. The Oilers were seeking another depth forward and took a flier on Kostin with little insight into him or expectations for him.
It took some time for Kostin to join the Oilers. They were capped out and roster positions were limited. They weren’t about to use a spot on an unknown commodity, especially since he could go to the AHL without having to be exposed to other teams.
It’s not like he wallowed while with the Bakersfield Condors. Kostin made his presence felt in the minors and had two goals and four points in nine games.
The Oilers suddenly had cap room when Evander Kane suffered a gruesome wrist injury in Tampa on Nov. 8 and required a trip to LTIR. Kane’s long-term injury, coupled with Kailer Yamamoto going down in the same game, opened space for recalls.
Kostin was promoted from the minors along with Mattias Janmark the next day.
He played nine of the last 10 games at left wing with Devin Shore at centre and Derek Ryan on the right side. The only outlier was when he missed one game to get his visa renewed.
The trio has found some chemistry with Kostin providing some key elements.
“He’s got tons of tools — a big shot, a big body, good hands. He can skate,” Shore said. “He checks off a lot of boxes.”
“I love playing with him,” Ryan said. “He plays hard. He plays the right way. He holds onto pucks in the offensive zone, the neutral zone. He makes good plays.”
Their best performance came last Wednesday in an 8-2 drubbing over the Coyotes.
Kostin recorded a goal and an assist, while also drawing the ire of former Oiler Zack Kassian late in the game. It was Kassian who instigated a fight against Kostin in the final minute. Yet it was Kassian, a noted tough guy, who got up with a bloodied nose, whereas Kostin’s knuckles were scraped and reddened.
“I’m not looking for a fight,” Kostin said after the game. “I’m here to play hockey. But if fights come, I’m not going away.”
It’s not like Kostin’s future as an Oiler is set in stone. Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod are getting closer to returning from injuries and the Oilers will have to drop at least one player to fit under the parameters of a 23-man roster limit.
Considering Kostin is eighth in terms of ice time among active Edmonton forwards in average ice at 9:47 and has been a regular in the lineup, his spot on the team should be safe.
That could change if the Oilers are healthy and don’t make a trade by the time Kane is ready to come off LTIR. They’ll have to jettison multiple players off the roster to activate Kane and be cap compliant.
But so much can happen between now and February, the earliest Kane could be activated.
It’s clear Kostin is going to make any decision a difficult one for the coaches and management.
“I’m brought to Edmonton. They give me a chance,” he said. “I’ll just try to prove they’re not wrong.”
He ended up being cast off in St. Louis when he didn’t show enough progress.
When asked if he enjoyed his time with the Blues, Kostin said, “Yeah. Kinda. Sometimes.” He laughed.
When asked what he didn’t like, he said, “It’s a secret.”
It’s no secret that he’s enjoying his time in Edmonton.
“I really like to play for this team,” he said.
He knows that many Oilers fans have taken a liking to him. He said he scours Twitter before going to bed to see what people think about him and the team.
He’s seen a lot of positive comments.
“Most of them, but I saw some gears, too,” Kostin said, laughing.
Not much seems to bother him these days.
Kostin still lives in a hotel across from the downtown rink, perhaps not the ideal setup for someone who’s been with the team for more than a month. It doesn’t matter in the slightest to him.
“I feel at home here,” Kostin said last week.
No kidding there.
(Photo: Curtis Comeau / Icon Sportswire)