The Klim Kostin era has officially ended in St. Louis. The Blues’ first-round draft choice in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has been traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for 23-year-old defenseman Dmitri Samorukov. After training camp and preseason play did not go the way the Blues and Kostin had hoped for, the club elected to part ways with the Russian forward.
Why the Blues Traded Kostin
The Blues selected Kostin 31st overall in a draft year that labeled him one of the most difficult prospects to accurately gauge. He lost nearly an entire season due to a shoulder/collarbone injury that limited him to zero points in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), one point in nine games in Russia’s second league, and one point in one game in Russia’s junior league. However, scouts were still optimistic about his level of play and ability with thoughts that he could become one of the next top power forwards in the NHL.
Related: 3 Blues Breakout Candidates For 2022-23
Kostin played his first full year in North America during the 2017-18 season with the San Antonio Rampage scoring six goals and 28 points over 67 games as an 18-year-old rookie. From a stylistic standpoint, he was frequently compared to Evgeni Malkin. Though he has never reached the skill and talent level of a player like him, Kostin was always viewed as someone who could earn a top-six role on the team.
In a shortened 2019-20 season in the American Hockey League (AHL), Kostin scored 13 goals and 30 points in 48 regular season games suggesting the time had come, and he was ready to be inserted into the NHL. As COVID continued to rule the world, the Blues opted to loan him to the KHL for the 2020-21 season. However, a return to Russia saw the forward struggle to produce offensively and thus became a wrecking ball on the ice hitting everything in sight.
Before the start of the 2021-22 season, Kostin appeared in the NHL sporadically scoring one goal and two points in six games for the Blues. Finally earning a roster spot, the 2021-22 season was expected to be his time to shine. After scoring two goals in his first game of the season, he appeared poised and motivated to make an impact. Thirty games later, he scored his next goal registering only four assists in the meantime. He was ultimately demoted to the AHL to play with the Springfield Thunderbirds, where he continued to see a lack of offensive production scoring three goals and six points in 17 regular season games and an additional four goals and eight points in 18 postseason games.
While Kostin struggled to find his spot with the organization, players like Alexey Toropchenko, Nathan Walker, and Nikita Alexandrov began to make names for themselves as internal options for the Blues to promote to the NHL. The club also drafted Jake Neighbours and Zachary Bolduc, who have quickly risen up the depth chart to become regulars on the team within the next one to three seasons. Kostin became an aging prospect falling down the depth chart and struggling to keep up in the NHL, ultimately becoming a tradable asset.
What the Blues Are Getting in Samorukov
Drafted 31 players after Kostin, Samorukov worked his way up to become one of the top prospects on defense for the Oilers. The 6-foot-3 Russian made his way to North America by playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and emerged as one of the top defensemen in the league as the season progressed. In his third season with the Guelph Storm, he helped capture an OHL Championship during the 2018-19 season, where he contributed 10 goals and 45 points over 59 regular season games and an additional 10 goals and 28 points in 24 postseason games. From 2019 to 2021, he split time in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Bakersfield Condors and was on loan in the KHL with CSKA Moscow. As time has progressed and competition has gotten fiercer, his offensive skills have not translated well. This past year, he appeared in 51 games with the Condors scoring three goals and 18 points in 51 regular season games.
While Samorukov’s offensive production has fallen off, his defensive approach to the game has increased. He uses his size and weight to his advantage playing with physicality and aggressiveness to take away space from the opposition. While he may no longer produce at a high offensive rate, he can still initiate a breakout and skate the puck out of the defensive zone to eliminate scoring opportunities. At 23 years old, he still has time to grow into his adult frame and learn to score at the highest level. With the Oilers, he appeared to have an opportunity on the team’s third-pairing to start the season. Though this may not be the same case in St. Louis, the Blues may have found themselves a reliable option to replace 33-year-old veteran defenseman Robert Bortuzzo on a full-time basis.
The Blues have a multitude of defensemen in their pipeline. However, the vast majority of the players to select from are all either undersized or average height and weight with third-pairing upside. With the team making a trade to rid themselves of Kostin, they add a defenseman that can play with grit and skill that should prove beneficial as the team begins to transition from their Stanley Cup core to the next generation of Blues stars. Though he may not have ‘star-player’ status, it feels like he could become a fan-favorite if all goes according to plan.