The Blues, missing a couple key parts of their offense because of injuries, called up one of their brightest prospects for his first crack at the NHL on Wednesday.
How long will Klim Kostin be around?
“Time will tell on that,” general manager Doug Armstrong said.
Kostin, one of the Blues’ first-round picks in the 2017 draft, was brought up from San Antonio and will join the team for its back-to-back games this week, at Columbus on Friday and at home vs. Anaheim on Saturday. The 20-year-old from Russia has three goals and eight assists in 14 games in San Antonio.
The move, Armstrong said, was driven as much by logistics as need: The Rampage play in Winnipeg on Friday night, and the paucity of direct flights from there would make it difficult for someone to get to Columbus or St. Louis in case of an emergency.
The Blues, with Alexander Steen joining Vladimir Tarasenko on the injured list, have been carrying only 12 forwards. They rolled the dice with the bare minimum for recent games against Calgary and Arizona, having no extra forwards on hand in case of a late injury, but didn’t want to take that chance with this weekend’s games.
There’s no guarantee that Kostin, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 212-pound power forward, plays on Friday or Saturday — or even be with the team Sunday. While Armstrong called him up, coach Craig Berube sets the lineup. The Blues were off Wednesday, so it won’t be clear how Kostin fits in until the team practices Thursday before flying to Columbus.
The Blues have two veteran forwards, Jamie McGinn and Troy Brouwer, in town for tryouts. Both will accompany the team to Columbus, though neither can play without being under contract. The Blues have seen McGinn in one full practice and Brouwer in none — he was on the ice for an optional morning skate on Tuesday. The team has until Wednesday to make a decision on McGinn and next Thursday on Brouwer, though Berube said a week probably would be sufficient to know if one, both or neither, would fit with the team.
Meanwhile, Jordan Kyrou continues to get back into game shape after his offseason surgery to repair a kneecap injury, but he’s not ready to go yet.
So with those three options looming in the near future, but not quite yet, that left Kostin or Nathan Walker as the leading candidates for the callup, and Armstrong went with Kostin.
Armstrong said via text that he watched Kostin play Monday “and he played well.”
The Blues are looking at McGinn, 31, and Brouwer, 34, because Armstrong is hesitant to introduce another of the team’s young forward into the lineup. But he also acknowledged that if the young players were better than the veterans, the young players would win out.
Blues fans have been clamoring for the promotion of Kostin, taken with the last pick of the first round in 2017, almost from the day he arrived from Russia. The Blues deliberately have slow-played his situation, giving him as much time as possible to adjust to life in a new country and a new style of play. When Kostin first came over, he didn’t speak the language, was living with his father and needed teammates’ help to order pizza on the phone.
Kostin was 18 when he came to play in the American Hockey League, an age when his North American contemporaries still were playing juniors. (European players aren’t subject to the age restrictions that North Americans are for playing in the AHL.)
His AHL numbers aren’t overwhelming — he has 19 goals and 41 assists in 147 career AHL games — but the Blues had no trouble with that because he was a boy playing against men in a strange place. They knew it would take time for him to adapt. When the Blues saw him play at the world juniors in January, going up against his peers, they liked what they saw.
“At the end of the day it wasn’t about the points,” Blues director of player development Tim Taylor said last summer. “It was about playing North American hockey, playing the right way, playing under a team concept, and then his skill level will take over.”
This season, Kostin’s third in the AHL, was seen as the season in which he could break out. He made a strong showing at the start of training camp, then slowed down by the end, with three goals and three assists in five games.
“Klim’s an interesting guy because in reality he should have played his eighth American league hockey game the other day but he went there as 18- and 19-year old,” Armstrong said earlier this week. “I think the process in the public’s eye is that he’s been down there a long time. He’s just a kid. He’s a year behind where Kyrou is. We’re excited. He would like to get right into the sprint and we’re trying to slow him down a little bit. He looks like he’s coming along and certainly someone who’s on our radar screen when we need a player.”
The Blues could put Kostin on the third line, moving Sammy Blais up to the second line and sitting Zach Sanford. Or they could play him in place of new acquisition Jacob de la Rose on the third line. Or they could have him watch.
Time will tell.