International Ice Hockey Federation

Hoping to represent Russia

Hoping to represent Russia

Korostelyov is headed to his third World Junior camp

Published 25.04.2017 09:17 GMT-4 | Author Dhiren Mahiban
Hoping to represent Russia
Russian forward Nikita Korostelyov in an OHL game for his junior club team Sarnia Sting. Photo: Dhiren Mahiban
Nikita Korostelyov is hoping the third time’s the charm as he attends Russia’s World Junior selection camp.

The Sarnia Sting forward is one of 19 forwards looking to crack Valeri Bragin’s 23-man roster for the Under-20 tournament.

“Absolutely, it's my goal,” Korostelyov said of playing at the World Juniors. “The past two years I attended the U20 camp in Sochi and hopefully I'm still going to have a chance to play there.”

Born in Moscow, Korostelyov made the decision to move away from home and to Ontario at the age of 14 with the hope that better competition in Canada would help him achieve his ultimate goal of playing in the National Hockey League. It’s an unusual step for a Russian as most star players develop at home and play in the KHL before trying to make the NHL.

After two seasons of minor hockey in suburban Ontario, the Sarnia Sting drafted Korostelyov ninth overall at the 2013 OHL Priority Selection out of the Toronto Junior Canadiens minor midget program.

“It was a big transition at first, for sure,” Korostelyov said of moving from the big ice in Russia to the smaller rinks of Ontario. “It took me about two, three months to actually (be able) to play my game and succeed at that level. It takes time. Playing on the big ice surface back home, you have more time even than at the minor midget level and that took me some time (to adjust to it).”

The 186-cm (6-foot-1), 91-kg (201-pound) forward admitted the decision to leave his family at such a young age wasn’t an easy one.

“They tried to help me with hockey my whole life, and for sure it was a tough decision for them,” Korostelyov said. “It was tough, even now talking about it with my parents it was tough, tough on them, tough on me, but I wouldn't change it for (anything) at the end of the day.”

Following his first two seasons with the Sting, which saw him score 31 goals and 91 points in 115 regular season games, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Korostelyov with their seventh round selection (185th overall) at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

In September, the 19-year-old was invited to Maple Leafs main camp for the first time.

“It was great, absolutely great,” said Korostelyov of the experience. “I didn't make the main camp last year so it was actually my first main camp. It was great playing with the big boys and just sitting in the same dressing room – see the way all those guys approach everything even in the hotel – it was a great experience.”

Korostelyov has yet to sign his entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs, but he’s hoping a breakout 2016/17 OHL season can help him earn his first professional contract.

If he doesn’t sign before the 2017 NHL Draft, he’s eligible to re-enter the selection process.

“It's going to be really big for me and just trying not to think about it,” Korostelyov said. “But it's hard not to, to be honest with you. Just trying to take it day-to-day.”

Korostelyov’s skating is an area of concern, it’s one of the reasons he was available for the Leafs to select him in the seventh round and something he spent the off-season working on.

“My skating, it's no secret, it has been an issue for me, but I feel way better,” said Korostelyov, who enlisted in the help of skating coach Barb Underhill in the off-season. “I feel stronger, I feel faster after the summer's hard training. I feel it's improved, but I just have to keep working on it and hopefully good things are going to happen.”

Former NHL defenceman Derian Hatcher, who is in his second season as head coach of the Sting, has lofty expectations for Korostelyov in his fourth OHL season. Hatcher believes if Korostelyov can do things consistently on the ice, there’s no reason he can’t reach the 50-goal plateau this season.

“Nikita is tremendously talented, you could see it last year,” Hatcher said. “He wants the puck, he demands the puck and he should. The biggest thing is doing things consistently. Not when he feels like it, not when he wants to - it's doing it every shift. If he can do that, he has the size and the skill to play at the next level.

“Defensively, he hasn't really been an issue for us.”

Through the first 29 games of the season, Korostelyov is second in team scoring with 17 goals and 17 assists – just seven goals shy of his career high set during the 2014/15 season.

“I'm trying not to think about it, to be honest,” Korostelyov said of reaching 50 goals. “Not put it in my head too much. Take it shift-by-shift, period-by-period and game-by-game. Hopefully good things can happen.”


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