Who is Nikita Korostelev?
Nikita Korostelev is a winger who just finished up his second season in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting. As you may be able to gather from his name, Korostelev hails from Russia, but he has been playing his hockey in North America for a while now. Korostelev is a decent sized player, checking in at 6'-1" and 196 pounds, and he's best known for his offensive talent. His point totals don't immediately jump off the page like some of the prospects who are higher up the board, but he led the Sting in scoring, despite missing about a month in the middle of the season. His stats, from Elite Prospects, are shown below.
Before this past season, it appeared Korostelev had a decent shot to be taken in the latter half of the first round, but his stock has slid somewhat in the past 6 months. Most seem to like what he has to offer on the offensive end of the ice, but some struggles on defense and some injury issues this past season have pushed him closer to the late second, early third round range of the draft. In their final draft rankings, the NHL's Central Scouting had him at 50th among North American skaters, Corey Pronman of ESPN put him at #61 in his final rankings, and Craig Button of TSN has him slotted in at #69.
Korostelev is considered a very talented offensive player, and his skills with the puck in particualr are what most people praise. He controls the puck well on offense and can be hard to knock off of it. Scouts like his shot and his quick release, as well as his playmaking ability as a passer. Reviews of his skating are a little bit mixed, but it seems to be characterized as at least "good." The big knock on Korostelev seems to be his play away from the puck where he reportedly doesn't play the tightest game. Some are less critical of it that others, but at the very least, he's probably not a plus defensive player. Overall, the consensus seems to be that he is a talented offensive player who could stand to round out his game a little more.
What Others are Saying About Korostelev
First up, Curtis Joe from Elite Prospects describes some of what makes Korostelev a good prospect in this blurb:
A deft skater that plays a skill-based, puck-possession game. Very creative with the puck: can let loose an accurate bullet, utilize his stickhandling ability to create chances, or make a seeing-eye pass to an open teammate. Good hands around the net and relentless on the forecheck. Doesn't shy away from the physical game. All-in-all, a very creative sniper that can set up, score, and play physical.
So on the offensive end of his game, he has a lot of desirable skills in his arsenal. Being able to create offense in a number of different ways, whether it is shooting, passing, or carrying the puck, is a good start for being an NHL caliber offensive player. He also seems have some physicality to his game, at least in the offensive zone, but over at Frozen Futures, Max Marko took a look at some of what has led to his slipping in draft rankings:
A big flaw of Korostelev however, is his defensive game. He is often found out of the play and trying to catch up. This, along with his injury that he acquired in January, has led to his drop on the NHL Draft board.
So there are some concerns with the way that Korostelev plays in his own end of the rink. The defensive instincts may be a bit lacking for the young winger, at least for now. He may need to shore up his game on D to advance in the professional ranks, but again, his offense is very strong. To drive home both of those points, we'll go to Shawn Reznik of The Hockey Writers:
A nifty set of hands, Korostelev is a master with the puck on his stick and dekes so well in tight spaces. Around the net, the young Russian can embarrass goalies and defenders and he couples his stickhandling with a devastatingly quick shot.
His biggest hinderance is his play in the defensive zone. It’s almost nonexistent. Korostelev will oftentimes be so focused on breaking out of the zone on a rush that he will not get back into the play in his own zone. He cheats along the boards which causes him to get out of position.
So basically, Korostelev seems like the type of player you will see fall out of the first couple of rounds a lot of times. A skilled guy who definitely has some talent and the ability to score, but also likely needs to improve his game a good amount in the other zones to make the leap to the NHL.
First up, we take a look at a game where Korostelev potted himself a hat trick. That quick release that was mentioned is very much on display here:
The first goal in particular displays how quickly Korostelev can get a puck on net, and he picks his spot well, too. Next up we have an interview from when Korostelev was first drafted by Sarnia a couple years ago. It gets into why he wanted to come over to North America for juniors, who he wants to model his game after, his jersey number, and a number of other topics. He seems to be aware that his defense could use some shoring up, too, it's worth a watch.
Lastly, there is a video from his time back in midgets that isolates him for an entire game. This video is a little on the dry side, but it's a decent way to get a look at the way he moves on the ice and some of his tendencies. One takeaway is that he's definitely not afraid to throw his body around. You can see him leaning a little in his own zone and you definitely can tell he's kind of waiting for the transition play at times, but this was also a couple years ago, when he was even more of a kid than he is now. He clearly has some puck skills and he is impressively able to get a shot away from his knees around the 12-minute mark. Watch if you feel like doing some scouting on a 2.5 year old video.
An Opinion of Sorts
Nikita Korostelev is the type of player you will start to see when you get past the first round or so of the draft: a guy with some clear abilities, but also someone who has holes in their game. Korostelev is clearly a talented winger, though, and I think he's probably the type of player the Devils should be targeting once the draft has advanced beyond the second round. Lots of his skills with the puck are lauded, and while his game without the puck could reportedly use work, that's the kind of stuff you hope you can instill through coaching. Korostelev may never pan out, and obviously it depends on who remains on the board when pick number 66 rolls around, but he is the type of higher-upside guy they should be looking at once they get to their later picks. Being an elite defensive player requires instincts that are tough to teach, but the same goes for offensive ability, and if he can put together a serviceable defensive game, all of a sudden, you have a very talented offensive winger in your system. With that in mind, Nikita Korostelev is the type of guy I wouldn't mind seeing the Devils take with a third round pick.
So what do you think of Nikita Korostelev? Would you be happy if the Devils ended up with him on draft day? Do you think the defensive woes are too much to overcome? Does he have the skill to end up as a productive forward in the NHL someday? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading.