Friday, September 23, 2011

Can Sergei Kostitsyn Improve on His Break Out Season?

One of the real hidden gems of David Poile's dealings in the summer of 2010 was the acquisition of Sergei Kostitsyn from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the rights to Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd, who Poile had no interest in signing.

Kostitsyn had finished the prior season deep in the Canadiens' doghouse and the parting was a joyous occasion for both the team and the player. Kostitsyn was not considered a team player by the Habs so it seemed like an odd match for him to be going to the Predators, a franchise that focused on team play and one-ness like few others in the league.

Poile signed Kostitsyn to a low risk $550,000, one way contract and he was given a chance to make the team. He played well enough in the preseason to stick with Nashville but started the season with a fracture in his foot and did not play his first game until October 14 against St. Louis.

Kostitsyn was averaging just about ten minutes a game once he returned and did not get is first point until October 24, when he scored a goal against St. Louis. After that, his ice time deteriorated and through the end of  November he only had two goals and an assist in 19 games.

Barry Trotz was patient and saw enough things that he liked to keep him in the lineup. In December he finally took off. Trotz explained, "He had a tough buy in to the way we played but once he came around then you saw him blossom."

During the month of December, Kostitsyn scored 5 goals and added eight assists while earning close to 20 minutes a game by New Years Day.

He ended the season with a team leading 23 goals and was tied for the team best with 50 points. He hen tadded five assists in 13 playoff games.

Kostitsyn's crowning glory to the 2010-11 season was that he led the league with a 24.7% shooting percentage. During the year end interviews, Trotz was already looking at a goal for this year of having Kostitsyn shoot more.

During the offseason, Kostitsyn was rewarded for his breakout year with a $2.5 million contract. When asked if the big increase added pressure he said, "I don’t feel any pressure. I’m just trying to get ready for the season."

Simply stated, he said, "I want to try to play better this year than the previous year and try to get better."

Trotz is thrilled with what he has seen out of Kostitsyn in camp so far. "He looks really good. His fitness level is 100 times better than last year when it wasn’t very good."

"His confidence level is really good too. I’m really excited about Sergei. He’s enjoying his role with the team and what he might be able to do."

Still, the goal remains, to get him to put more shots on net. Trotz explained, "We've talked about it. He’s got a really good shot. It’s going to be repeating 'don’t pass up those shots’. When he does shoot, he’s shooting at a high percentage."

"Last year he didn’t shoot a lot and he had one of the highest percentages in the league. He's still going to have to thread a shot. We going to talk about him shooting off the half wall more on the power play and not being looking to pass all the time."

"That’s part of being a threat and opening up people so when they’ve taken all the options away, he can step in and shoot the puck more."

Trotz hnows that it won't happen overnight. "It’s one step at a time. I can’t prod him with a cattle prod, that just doesn’t work. It’s repetition and him seeing it."

Trotz thinks that Kostitsyn will buy in to what they want him to do sooner this season, "It will be the same thing (as last year), when we find something in his game to improve, then he will blossom in that area too."

There may still be a little work to do before opening day. When asked about taking more shots, Kostitsyn replied, "If a player is in a better position than me, I always try to make a pass."

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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