Montreal Canadiens: Will Mercurial Forward Andrei Kostitsyn Finally Break Out?

Jason HitelmanCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 25:  Andrei Kostitsyn #46 of the Montreal Canadiens waits for a faceoff in an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 25, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Andrei Kostitsyn has been an enigma on the Montreal Canadiens.

Since what was supposed to be his breakout season in 2007-2008 when he dazzled alongside Tomas Plekanec and Alex Kovalev on what was one of the top lines in the NHL, we have not seen his game grow at all.

The 26 goals and 27 assists he collected in his first full season with the Habs remain career highs.

He has since, at times, looked brilliant on the ice. He can toe-drag through the opposition and showcases one of the fastest releases in the game today.

Other times, though—most of the time, I should say—he looks utterly lost. It sometimes seems as if he has no idea where he is nor what his intentions are—except maybe to take boarding penalties (say what you will, AK46 loves to hit. He led the team this season with 140).

He's seen his younger brother Sergei jettisoned from the team after he refused to adopt the defensive system that Jacques Martin wanted him to adhere to. Odds are the brothers didn't grow up playing defense, so I could only wonder what goes through Andrei's head.

Thankfully for Canadiens fans, Kostitsyn found some consistency (say that five times fast) playing with Lars Eller. It was the first time that he looked comfortable on a line since Kovalev was on the team. And to think that the chemistry was only discovered because of a demotion after the Belorussian was completely ineffective playing with Plekanec...

Pierre Gauthier inked Kostitsyn to a one-year, $3.25 million dollar contract this offseason. It was his last year as a restricted free agent, meaning he will be unrestricted at season's end.

If Kostitsyn continues to throw his big body around and score the pretty goals he is known to score, the Canadiens will have a pretty strong third line. Granted, it's not as if AK46 is known as a physical powerhouse, but he could do the job.

Kostitsyn obviously wasn't drafted as a third-line talent (you all know he 2003 NHL Entry Draft story), but I'm pretty sure any team would take a player like him at the right price.

If he is able to put up 20-25 goals as a depth forward, remain on the leader board in the hits category and pitch in on the power play, perhaps he would be cut a little slack.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the 40 goals that you once expected from Kostitsyn aren't going to happen.

But the chemistry he shares with Eller, leading to the young Dane's further development as a premier centreman, could prove priceless.

It's going to be a very interesting year for Kostitsyn. I think that his disappointed fans will be pleasantly surprised—even if they could have had Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, etc.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jhytel