In the past few years, the Montreal Canadiens have made a habit of dedicating a draft to selecting several players at the same position with the hope of finding one or two diamonds in the rough.
It started in 2018 when the organization followed up the pick of Jesperi Kotkaniemi by adding fellow centremen Jacob Olofsson, Cam Hillis, Allan McShane, Samuel Houde, and Brett Stapley. The following year, it was time to stock the cupboard of left-handed defencemen by selecting Jayden Struble, Mattias Norlinder, Gianni Fairbrother, Jacob LeGuerrier, and Kieran Ruscheinski.
In 2020, the focus was mainly to get a longer look at the prospects chosen, meaning that most picks were either primed for college or Europe. Though if you look, it is noticeable that most members of the Montreal draft class of yesteryear seem destined for a future on the wing.
If you follow that pattern, there is one position missing. The Canadiens have to stockpile some right-handed defencemen for the future. Unfortunately for the franchise, it looked like slim pickings in the first few rounds, if we were to trust our compilation of the NHL Draft rankings.
When Corson Ceulemans went to Columbus at pick number 25, it meant that the only two right-handed defencemen ranked in the top 40 had come and gone before Montreal had a chance to compete for them. Instead, they went the route of adding a young man recently convicted of a crime who had requested to be removed from consideration in this draft.
On day two, after adding two more centremen to the depth chart, they followed up on the Logan Mailloux pick by doubling down on right-side defencemen, this time travelling all the way to Russia. And why not? It certainly worked out well the last time they selected a Russian blue-liner.
Birthplace: Togliatti, Russia
Date of birth: September 25, 2002
Weight: 187 lbs.
Team: Lada Togliatti (VHL)
Dmitri Kostenko was born and raised in Togliatti; a medium-sized – 700,000 inhabitants – city in Samara Oblast, right by the river Volga in the Southern parts of Russia. Togliatti is a fascinating city, named after an Italian communist politician who helped form a trade connection between the city and Italy. The business venture meant creating cheap Soviet cars with the assistance of Fiat. In Russia, the cars dominated on the internal market and received the name ‘Lada.’ Ladas are still a part of Russian culture, but never made headlines outside of the Eastern parts of Europe. BBC car show Top Gear even made a point of dropping a Lada from a helicopter back in 2016.
After spending his whole youth career with local team Lada Togliatti — yes, the team is named after the local car company — he was recently signed by Spartak Moscow in the KHL for the upcoming season.
That will be quite the step up for young Kostenko, who alternated between playing in the second-tier VHL and the Junior league MHL during this most recent season. Can he make the leap both to living 1,000 kilometres from home in Moscow and playing in the second-toughest league in the world? That remains to be seen. But there are reasons to be optimistic.
Kostenko is described as a player with slick hands, who has an offensive upside through his vision and creativity. His size is decent and he managed to add almost 20 pounds ahead of the 2020-21 season without losing his touch. He is at his best when he gets to focus on moving forward and distribute the puck alternatively opening up a lane for his slapshot. Kostenko is a defenceman made for the power play.
Are there any question marks here? Of course there are. Otherwise, he would have been selected earlier. With Kostenko, the aspects that need straightening out are questions surrounding his skating stride and effort in his own zone. If he wants to have a future as an NHL defenceman, he will have to round out his ability to play a tight and physical defensive game.
This is why it will be interesting to see how Spartak Moscow will deploy him next season. They have obviously seen tools they like, and with Kostenko turning 19 years old in September, and already closing in on 50 games in the second tier, I can only imagine that Spartak wants him on their KHL side. There would be no use sending him down for yet another year in the second tier unless he struggles mightily and needs to retrieve his confidence later on.
With regards to his experience, his age when drafted, his playing style, and his size, I would like to throw out a quick comparison to fellow Habs draft pick Mattias Norlinder. When he was drafted, we heard similar comments about him being able to open up opposing defences from the rear end with his vision, puck-moving and passing ability.
Scott Wheeler/The Athletic: #52
Corey Pronman/The Athletic: #41
Bob McKenzie/TSN: #88
NHL Central Scouting: #17 (European skaters)
Everyone certainly wasn’t high on Kostenko. Elite Prospects have him unranked and so does Hockey Prospect in their Black Book. The latter site asked whether Kostenko has enough competitiveness to make the full-time leap into a pro-level player.
Others, like the two analysts from The Athletic, are considerably higher on him, seeing him as a second-round type of talent. Scott Wheeler even writes that he became a huge fan of Kostenko’s all-around game a year ago, but that he would have liked to see even more development during his draft year, especially with regards to his early birthday.
All in all, Montreal have taken a third-round flier on a right-handed KHL defenceman with offensive traits, adequate size, and power-play ability. You could do a lot worse with a selection in the late 80s.