Sarnia Sting rookie Nikita Korostelev moved from Moscow to Toronto at age 14 to pursue his NHL ambition (Sarnia …
A creative Russian forward in Sarnia, why no, that's never happened.
Okay, at least not through the means that Nikita Korostelev used to make himself one of the Ontario Hockey League's most intriguing newcomers. Erstwhile NHL first overall pick Nail Yakupov and current draft prospect Nikolay Goldobin came to the Sarnia Sting through the import draft. Montreal Canadiens centre Alex Galchenyuk, whose namesake dad's itinerant pro career made for a well-travelled childhood, played in Chicago during his minor-midget season. The 6-foot-1½, 194-pound Korostelev, on the other hand, got an early start on living apart from his family two seasons ago when Toronto-area minor hockey coach Dave D'Amizzio, who speaks Russian, recruited him to play for the Vaughan Kings and, later, the Toronto Jr. Canadiens.
Korostelev, a Muscovite who models his game after Alex Ovechkin, figures that after two years in the GTA, he's well-adapted to North American hockey.
"It was hard at first, being a 14-year-old, living by myself in a house with a couple other guys on my team," says Korostelev, whom the Sting took No. 9 overall in last spring's priority selection. "Then my parents [father Dmitriy and mother Natalia] started to come, about half the time, more so last year. I'm completely fine with where I am now."
Korostelev has one of the most potent shots among the OHL's rookie class and also showed throughout his minor-midget season that he has the spatial sense to create room to operate for both he and his teammates. It's early yet, but with compatriot Goldobin as a teammate and a paucity of proven scoring on the Sting, he could have ample opportunity to have a relatively prolific rookie season.
The right-shooting centre, who's not shy about using his good-sized frame, is emphasizing improving his defensive positioning during his first year. Korostelev adds he and Goldobin also spent their time at home in Moscow building a good rapport.
"In Moscow, we live 10 minutes away from each other so we were hanging out pretty much every day."
1. As a European player who entered the OHL through Ontario's minor hockey system, how do you feel about the CHL phasing out goalies from your part of the world?
"I have a couple buddies who wanted to go in the import draft are not able to do it right now. They'll have to find a different way to do it [break into higher-level hockey]. I feel bad for my friends and there was no need for it [the rule change]. The Russian goalies make the league stronger, in my mind."
2. Is there a particular player/team in the OHL you are looking forward to playing against?
"I would say Niagara because my buddy Zach Wilkie [the IceDogs' second-rounder] is there, we played together with the Jr. Canadiens."
3. How grateful are you to Dave D'Amizzio, who coached you in Vaughan and with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens during your first two years in Canada?
"He's the person who helped me the most here in Canada, He helped me with the speed and the physical play. He was helpful and gave me all sorts of tips in school and with getting comfortable with school and speaking English. He helped me find a billet for my second year. He's been so good to me."
4. What area of the game do you want to display improvement in this season, not necessarily in your first month in the league, but by season's end?
"I want to improve my defensive ability, play more my position and move my feet more without the puck."
5. We understand part of your adjustment was finding out Russians and Canadians have slightly different customs with sweater numbers?
"I wore number 35 for five years in Moscow. It wasn't a goalie number. I came over here and I took 35 right away and they were looking at me like I was crazy. I played over here after knowing it was a goalie number and then I switched the [numerals] to 53.
"As soon as I got drafted I asked Sarnia someone had it and they put '53' on my helmet right away."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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