Nikita Korostelev is definitely a hockey player on a mission.
Proof of that is the face he was willing to leave his native country of Russia at only 14 years of age in order to someday achieve his goal of being a professional hockey player.
But for the next few years Korostelev will be honing his hockey skills with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.
Korostelev met with the local media in the Sting locker room Thursday. Last Saturday he was Sarnia’s first round selection, ninth overall, in the OHL’s annual Priority Draft.
“It was a dream of mine to play for the Sting in the OHL,” said the confident 16 year-old.
Thursday’s visit was his first-ever trip to Sarnia. He met with team officials and got his first look at the RBC Centre.
Korostelev played for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens last season where he scored 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in only 13 games. He missed a month of the season with a broken wrist.
But it was the OHL scouting report that should make Sting fans excited about this highly skilled right-winger.
The report read as follows. Nikita is one of the most highly skilled players in the draft this year. There are times when he does things with the puck that you couldn’t believe he just did that and he leaves you shaking your head. Nikita has one of the top shots in the league and in every way, release, accuracy and speed and is not shy to use his shot from anywhere on the ice.
The report added, he always seems to get to loose pucks and create scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Although he is a goal scorer, Nikita also has the ability to make the players around him better by giving him the puck at the right times.
Sting head coach and general manager, Jacques Beaulieu, watched Korostelev play at least 10 times during the season.
“He’s got a mixture of Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov in him. He’s a very dynamic player. He skates well, shoots the puck and has a lot of grit that people really haven’t seen yet. He’s ready to play right away.” But Beaulieu knows he doesn’t want to put any pressure on him. “He needs to get stronger. Coming into our league is a big jump and all rookies need to work on their defensive game. But we like what we see in Nikita. We did our homework on him. He comes from a good family and there’s no question the skill level is there right now.”
The newest member of the Sting stands six foot, one and weighs 184 pounds.
When asked why he came to Canada from Moscow two years ago, Korostelev doesn’t beat around the bush.“I wasn’t growing as a hockey player. I played against some Canadian teams in tournaments and made the decision then to come to Canada to get better. The game in Canada was so much faster than in Russia until I got used to it.”
When asked to describe himself as a player, Korostelev said, “I’m good in the offensive zone. I try and make my team better. I know I have to work on my defensive game.”
Conducting an interview like the one he did in the Sting dressing room is truly remarkable considering he knew very little English when he arrived in Canada. He said he learned from his teammates and going to school in Mississauga.
Korostelev comes from the same minor hockey system Sting forward Nikolay Goldobin comes from in Moscow. “I don’t know him personally, but we played in the same organization. I remember going to a practice with Nikolay.”
Korostelev will be third Sting player to be able to speak both English and Russian. The other two include Goldobin and Daniel Nikandrov.“It’s nice to have two Russian speaking teammates and the assistant coach (Alex Galchenyuk Sr.) also speaks Russian. I also played with Jordan Addesi in Vaughan two years ago.” That prompted Beaulieu to say, “I don’t speak Russian. Maybe I’ll have to learn some.” Korostelev says he doesn’t have a favourite National Hockey League team, but cites Alex Ovechin of the Washington Capitals his favourite player.
“I like him because he can score goals, but he can play physical as well.”
Korostelev plans on going home to Moscow for about a month and a half before returning to Canada in the middle of July. “I will be working out, both running and in the gym to get better. I want to improve my flexibility.”
Many OHL officials are saying the Sting had an outstanding draft as they added forward Noah Bushnell in the second round and defenceman Connor Schlichting in the third round. “We’ll see in a couple of years,” said Beaulieu. “We are excited about our top picks. We made a couple of moves to get a second round pick while we were quite surprised when Connor was still there in the third round. We had him rated a lot higher than that. “Time will tell, but all three will be in our opening day lineup in the fall. We are going to be a young team. But it’s very important for these young guys to come in and grow and contribute to the team. We understand how tough it is for 16 year-olds to come into our league and be a factor right away. We want to put them in the right situations.”
Assistant general manager, Mark Glavin says a few of the other Sting draft picks will be in Sarnia this weekend to get their workout agendas and meet team officials.