Sergei Kostitsyn Brings To Mind The Young Claude Lemieux

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Observing the extreme behavior of late exhibited by the Habs Sergei Kostitsyn, I found he reminded me of none other than Claude Lemieux during his first NHL steps.

Go figure, as there has been talk of both in the news recently, with the younger Kostitsyn being press boxed by Guy Carbonneau and the former Prince Of Pests seeking a comeback with the San Jose Sharks farm club.

The Sergei - Lemieux comparison seems a bit tenuous on the surface, as they neither resemble one another physically, nor do they play a similar style. Where I find the two mirror each other is between the ears, in temperment, and potentially, in gamesmanship.

Kostitsyn, like Lemieux, has shown a knack for not only getting under opponants skin, but he has also shown that at his worst he can test his team mates and coaches temper and patience as well.

This past Saturday, in an effort that led him to earning the highest seat in the Bell Centre for now, the junior Kostitsyn sibling took three very useless penalties, and the scent of senselessness went up Carbonneau's nose like foul mustard. In explaining why the young star was being punished, the coach alluded to him behaving as if he were a ten year veteran rather than a player without a full season's experience.

In coach parlance, he needed to be shown his place.

Kostitsyn has a lot to learn, and it is not all to do with skill and talent. 

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I recall Claude Lemieux at the 1985 training camp showing much the same. Right from the first days of camp, Lemieux acted as though a spot on the team for him was all but in the bag. Playing well enough to have earned a spot, he was surprisingly cut, and spent a half season with the baby Habs in Sherbrooke, pouting because he'd felt wronged. After being recalled with ten games remaining in the campaign, Lemieux's arrival in Montreal coincided with the team's late season resurgeance, and his ten playoffs goals as a rookie (including four game winners) made him heroic almost on a par with Patrick Roy.

As time passed, Lemieux cemented a reputation as both a bastard on the ice, and solid playoff clutch performer. There are three lasting memories of Lemieux that stand out above all others:

His dastardly wicked hit from behind on Detroit's Kris Draper in the 1996 playoffs that left the Wings forward with

a fractured jaw and cheekbone, a broken nose, 30 stitches on the inside of his mouth and five busted up teeth.

His phoenix - like rise as the playoff leading goal getter in 1995, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in doubling his goal output from the regulat season.

His constant one ice writhing like a harpooned seal in mock pain when hit, during his days in Montreal. Lemieux often overdid the schtick in an effort to draw penalties. What he drew was the ire of coch Pat Burns, who soon forbid the team trainers from attending to him and participating in the mockery.

Lemieux's final resume is interesting as hell. He was a four time Stanley Cup champion on three teams - twice in two different Devils incarnations. There's the aforementioned Conn Smythe, as well as a total of 459 goals scored in the NHL, included an amazing 80 in the playoffs - which is goal more than Jean Beliveau. 

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Only eight players have scored more playoff goals than Lemieux, and all are in the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Surely, and perhaps unfairly, what keeps Lemieux from having a place among elite company, is his image. During his time he was one of the most hated players in the game.

It's a tough call to make, whether he belongs there or not, but my view is that his candidacy should get more ink than those of Dino Ciccarelli or Dave Andreychuk.

His legacy be what it may, would it change if he were to make the jump back to the NHL with San Jose, and participate in a fifth Stanley Cup?

He currently has a goal and an assist in three games with Worchester Sharks.

Getting back to Kostitsyn, I see in him the same big game player potential that Lemieux carved out for himself. As a junior with the London Knights, Kostitsyn tallied 58 points in 35 playoff games over two campaigns. Last season, in his first playoffs with Montreal, he registered a respectable 8 points in 12 games.

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Coincidentally, Kostitsyn's London coach was one Dale Hunter, a Claude Lemieux prototype if there had ever been one. Hunter has obviously had some effect on him, as he bares many similar traits from his coach's playing days.

It is this unbridled passion that tells me there is something special in him. Though he looks small on ice, he is 5' 11", and 204 pounds, according to his bio. He uses all he has size and skill wise, to play many styles on ice. He has great moves, above average vision, and seems intent on being an agitator, willing to go so far as dropping the gloves if need be.

Kostitsyn is player who thinks outside the box. Not only is he more adept defensively than most his age, he often finds ways to make a difference in games by trying to lure opponants into bad calls. He goes to lengthd, sometimes too far, to get them off their game.

What is concerning the Canadiens at this point in his progression, is reeling in his exhuberant passion into a more controlable package. As a gifted player offensively, his frustrations manifest themselves in ugly ways that are often to the detriment of the club. By benching him, the hope is that it brings his maturity level up a few notches. Right now, the Habs are trying to reel in this dynamic jewel, before he strays too far down the path of no return.

In recent years, the Canadiens have dealt with similar cases of headstrong youngsters thinking they have it all in place - Ron Hainsey, Mike Ribeiro and Mikhail Grabovski come to mind.

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The Canadiens must be cautious in the grooming of Kostitsyn the person, thus allowing, and not preventing, the blooming of the player. In a cocky spirit, the hard line often helps spite ferment, and Montreal should proceed delicately with how they treat the player in the team scheme of things, especially with an older brother on the club.

Down the line, this kid filled with present wreckless abandon could turn out to be a gamer similar to Lemieux. The Canadiens are trying to see to it that this doesn't fullfill itself in another team's jersey.

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