EDMONTON — “Hey, my name is Klim. And I am hungry.”
When an 18-year-old Klim (pronounced Kleem) Kostin arrived in St. Louis from Russia, that was the extent of his English. Today, at six-foot-three and 215 pounds, we can say that although he was a man of few words, at least he knew the important ones.
Let us introduce you to Kostin, a delightful young man with a thick Russian accent and a firm grip on his second chance in the National Hockey League here in Edmonton.
Kostin is that first round pick who is getting a do-over with his second organization, traded from St. Louis to Edmonton in return for childhood friend Dmitri Samorukov back on October 9. The son of a butcher, Kostin left his home in Penza to stake his claim to a hockey career at age 11, living with his grandmother in Moscow.
She made a mean bowl of borscht, but young Klim recalls how he would call home to his parents, crying. “Bring me back to Penza. I don’t want to be here.”
Today, no one has more laughs than this 23-year-old.
He watches over a stick given to him this week by Alex Ovechkin so that it won’t be stolen by a teammate. “Holloway, I think.” And he marvels at the fact that he shares a dressing room with Connor McDavid.
“He’s not a human. I don’t think so,” jokes Kostin. “I didn’t know what should I do when I meet him? Guys are saying it’s really a big advantage for me to be in the same locker room and on the ice, practice every day with him. To learn from him.”
Some guys are just happy to be there, in an NHL dressing room, collecting an NHL paycheck. Then there’s Kostin, who sees in this opportunity a chance to gain that foothold he could never quite manage with the Blues.
“I feel at home here. I really like the group of guys here,” he said. “The trainers, the coaching staff, everyone in the locker room. Even media — I like you guys too!
“When you feel comfortable, when you feel happy in the team — with the guys — like everyone here likes you. It’s really a family here. I wake up in the morning, and I just can’t wait to go into the locker room and see the boys, go into the practice.”
There’s a reason this guy thrives in the locker room — he’s a character. Let him tell you the story of how he texted his buddy Samorukov upon learning of his trade.
“We know each other since, like, 10 years old. We played against each other growing up,” begins Kostin. “When I got traded, I didn’t know who’s going the other way. My agent just told me, ‘Edmonton’s got you.’
“So I texted [my friend]: ‘Sammy! I’m coming!’ And he was like, ‘Um, I’m going the other way…’
You can’t make it in this gig if you’re not willing to have a few laughs along the way. Like how Kostin has his head coach thinking he is a real “rink rat” because Jay Woodcroft sees him at the rink all day every day.
But the truth is, Kostin has been holed up in a hotel room at the JW Marriott since he was acquired in October. He’s sick of the place.
“It’s a really good locker room here. Good food, and lots of food,” he smiles. “That’s probably why I am staying. I have nothing to do, and I am staying at hotel right now. But the locker room is much bigger than my room.”
Kostin never made it with St. Louis, who drafted him 31st overall in the 2017 draft.
Like all first rounders, this big, skilled, swift-skating winger was supposed to be a Top 6 producer here in the NHL. Alas, five years later, the Blues were breaking camp and he didn’t have an NHL roster spot. Nor did Samorukov in Edmonton, so the two general managers swapped a pair of young Russians who were looking for a fresh start.
While Samorukov has yet to play a game for the Blues, Kostin has laid claim to a left winger’s job in the Bottom 6, a gig he’s willing to fight for.
No, really. He scrapped big Zack Kassian on Thursday, and added a goal and an assist to record the first Gordie Howe Hat trick by an Oiler since Kassian fought Matt Martin of the Toronto Maple Leafs back on Nov. 30, 2017.
Kostin is credited with nine fights by hockeyfights.com since joining the American League in 2017. He says it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight.
“Size, it’s never a problem. (You) just need to have character,” he said. “A guy who doesn’t care [if he’s] six-foot-three or five-foot-seven. Doesn’t care. Bravery.”
He’s got his mitts on a full-time gig here, adding size, speed and some scoring touch to a fairly bland Bottom 6 in Edmonton.
And it’s going to be tough to wrestle this opportunity away.
Because he is Klim. And he is hungry.