I’ll start by acknowledging that it was well past Zack Kassian’s time to move on from the Edmonton Oilers when he was traded. However, when he was in his prime in Oil Country, he was a highly effective and important player on the ice and in the Oilers’ locker room. When he settled in after arriving in 2015, he became a fan favourite, often laying crushing hits, sticking up and fighting for teammates, and tapped into an offensive side that saw him score back-to-back 15-goal seasons from 2018-2020.
Kassian was not nearly the same player after signing his $12.8 million contract, and for that, the Oilers traded him to the Arizona Coyotes last July. Yet, there was concern that a void was left with his departure, and there was a need for a tough and physical player that could also provide offence. However, here we are, just six months later, and it appears general manager Ken Holland may have found Kassian’s replacement, albeit the Russian and left-shooting version, in Klim Kostin.
Kostin Has Many Similarities to Prime Kassian
There are many similarities between Kassian and Kostin. Both players are 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds, former first-round draft picks traded from the original teams that drafted them, and both are tough as nails. What’s more, Kassian had good hands for a big man, and that’s something Kostin has shown as of late, especially with his bar-down backhand goal against the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 30. Additionally, Kassian was a great locker-room guy and well-liked by his teammates, and by all accounts and what’s been shown on the Oilers’ social media, Kostin is also endearing himself to his teammates, often shown hugging his fellow Oilers.
Another comparison is that at one point, Kassian was a huge fan favourite in Edmonton, and it all started with a rambunctious and physical style of play against the San Jose Sharks in the 2017 playoffs, laying heavy hits and chipping in on timely goals. In contrast, since Kostin’s arrival in Edmonton, he’s become a fan favourite with the Oilers’ faithful in the same manner. In 22 games, he’s thrown 65 hits, good for second on the team, and many of the body checks have knocked the opposition down to the ice. At the same time, he’s chipped in on the scoreboard with five goals and four assists, including a two-goal night against the Kraken on Dec. 30.
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Additionally, much like Kassian used to do, Oilers fans have admired Kostin’s willingness to drop the gloves. On Dec. 30 against the Kraken, the Sportsnet broadcast caught the tail end of the Russian winger with his gloves off and punching Brandon Tanev, which earned him a four-minute penalty. Kostin said after the game, “We [had] a lead by four or five goals, and they started to play a little dirty, but we [didn’t] let them play that way. If we need [it], I will fight for everybody on the team.”
With that in mind, Kostin made his name known in Edmonton on Dec. 7 when the Coyotes were in town. On a night when Kassian returned to Rogers Place for the first time since the trade, it was Kostin who stole the spotlight. The Russian winger recorded a goal and an assist and completed the Gordie Howe hat trick when he ironically fought Kassian late in the game, which left the Coyotes’ forward bloodied after the tussle. Looking back, it’s almost as if the fight between the two big wingers was a passing of the “fan favourite” torch from the 31-year-old Kassian to the up-and-coming 23-year-old Kostin.
Kostin Is Seizing His Opportunity With the Oilers
Kostin is taking advantage of his opportunity in Edmonton, from starting on the fourth line to working his way up and playing on a line with star forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. What’s more, with Leon Draisaitl out of the lineup against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 31, it spoke volumes when head coach Jay Woodcroft sent out Kostin on the power play to try and tie the game before he freakishly crashed into the boards in the dying seconds of the match.
Former NHL player and hockey analyst Rob Brown spoke of the Russian winger’s impact lately, saying, “Kostin’s making a point to the coaching staff, [saying] you can’t afford to take me out of the lineup. He brings something to the Oilers that a lot of the other [players] aren’t capable of doing, and that is a tough, hard physical play.” He added, “He’s earned every ounce of ice time he’s gotten, and he’s the kind of player that the Oilers want and, as he said it, the kind of player that you want in the playoffs.”
Speaking of playoffs, the Oiler was asked if his two-goal outing against the Kraken on Dec. 30 was his best game in the NHL, and he replied, “Hopefully, my best game is in the future.. somewhere in the playoffs, eh?” The Oilers are currently battling for a wild card spot, and if they make the playoffs, Kostin has the tools, like his 6-foot-3 frame with soft hands, to become an impact postseason player, much like Kassian was in Edmonton in 2017.
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As previously mentioned, the rugged Russian had a scare late in the game against the Jets on New Year’s Eve when he crashed into the boards, but fortunately, things are looking optimistic, as he indicated on Jan. 2 that he’s fine and ready to play the next game. Once Edmonton gets fully healthy and Evander Kane returns to the lineup, Kostin not only has made a case to remain with the big club but potentially carved his way into the Oilers’ long-term plans.