Continuing with our annual Leafs prospect rankings, the 11th-ranked player on our list is Nikita Korostelev, this year’s seventh-round pick out of Sarnia of the OHL. You’re probably wondering why a newly-drafted player who was taken so late could be this high on our list, so let us explain after the jump.
First off, Korostelev was ranked much higher in a lot of pre-draft rankings than where the Leafs actually managed to scoop him up.
Overall, Toronto nabbed him 185th, but if you look at some of the scouting outlets like ESPN’s Corey Pronman, Future Considerations, or McKeen’s, he was ranked in the 60-75 range in the months leading up to the draft – Pronman had Korostelev ranked 61st in his top 100 in May, ahead of Noah Juulsen, who the Canadiens took in the first round, for example. It was definitely an interesting situation with this kid at the draft, as he fell quite a bit.
Here’s some of what Pronman had to say about Korostelev in those pre-draft rankings:
“He’s a pretty good physical forward with a filled-out frame, and he displays a strong power game with the puck. Korostelev can play a perimeter game as well as the inside game due to his impressive hands and vision. He also has a high-end shot, as his one-timers generate a ton of velocity. His skating is a bit of a knock, as he lacks a separation gear coming down the wing.”
And after the Leafs made the pick, Brock Otten, of the OHL Prospects Blog, weighed in on his drop in the draft and where he needs to improve going forward:
“One of the biggest fallers at this year’s NHL draft, Korostelev will have a lot to prove next year in Sarnia. This past year he struggled with being a go to offensive guy (when Zacha was out of the line up) and he needs to spend this offseason making some improvements to his game. The most obvious of those is improving his first few steps to become a more explosive player down the wing. But he also needs to find the physical aggression that he played with as an OHL rookie in 2013/2014. With his size and skill, adding that power element to his game will be key to his development. Sarnia should be among the best team’s in the West next year (pending they get Zacha back and their young players progress) and Korostelev will be a big part of that. I’d be downright shocked if he’s not hovering around the 35 goal mark next year.”
It’s clear from reading a number of scouting reports that Korostelev’s main area that requires some work is in the explosiveness of his stride. There’s some division in how his skating is viewed overall (Future Considerations, for example, sees him as a strong skater), but it seems even if he’s crafty enough in tight quarters, most agree he needs to find a separation gear to be more of a rush threat with that strong ability to shoot the puck.
As mentioned above, Korostelev found himself on a team with a top-ten NHL pick in Pavel Zacha, though what’s interesting is Korostelev actually managed to out-produce him this past year.
Korostelev poured in 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points in 55 appearances for the Sting, which ranked him 51st in the OHL in points-per-game at 0.96 overall. In terms of draft-eligibles, he was 8th – ahead of both Zacha (0.92) and Crouse (0.91) in this regard (via CHLStats). Not bad for a guy taken 170+ picks later than those two.
Perhaps even more interestingly, when Shawn Reis went back to take a look at the Leafs’ 2015 draft class using the PCS (Prospect Cohort Success) tool, Korostelev clocked in at 24.79% probability to reach 200 NHL games – the highest of any Leafs pick after Dermott via the same metric.
Here’s what Shawn had to say about him just after the draft:
This is why I love this pick – it`s just efficient drafting. Korostelev is far from a lock to be an NHLer, but when you can get a player with numbers like this in the 7th round, well, the value simply far exceeds the cost.
A Look Ahead
Korostelev will head back to the Sting this year for his draft-plus-one season and look to get more into that upper echelon of the overall league scoring race. If we look at some other recent junior players the Leafs have sent back to the O, a nice target to hit might be Carter Verhaeghe’s type of production in his plus-one season, which clocked in at around 1.26 points-per-game. Verhaeghe was a higher pick, going in the third round in 2013, but Korostelev’s production is already at a level where he was viewed as a potential third-rounder this summer, so expectations should be as high, if not higher, for the Russian.
As for his teammates, Korostelev should be able to link up with Zacha again, as it’s doubtful the sixth overall pick is going to be rushed by the Devils. With both of them taking a step forward together on a strong Sarnia club, there’s really no reason Korostelev’s numbers shouldn’t be able to take a nice climb, especially if he works on his speed this offseason to become even more dangerous along the wing with that heavy shot.