Nikita Korostelev didn’t have the draft plus-one season he was hoping for in 2015-16.
His production dipped to 42 points in 53 games after a promising draft-year output of 53-in-55 — a point per game average that actually slightly eclipsed the mark of Sarnia Sting teammate Pavel Zacha (.96 vs. .92), who was drafted 179 spots ahead of Korostelev in the 2015 draft.
After a disappointing first round exit for Sarnia in the playoffs, a trade in the KHL saw his rights move from Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg to CSKA Moscow in early September 2016, spurring some speculation about whether he was staying in the Ontario Hockey League this season. Korsotelev put those questions to bed after participating in the 2016 rookie tournament — where he impressed onlookers in the Sunday game — and appearing briefly at the Maple Leafs‘ main camp before returning to Sarnia after the first round of cuts.
His first OHL game of the season came Friday night versus the Ottawa 67s, a 7-4 win for the Sting. He tapped in the first goal of the game as the puck trickled along the goal line. After the 67s took a 3-2 lead in the second period, Korostelev took a pass in front and outwaited Ottawa goaltender Leo Lazarev to deposit his second of the night. With the game tied 4-4 with ten minutes remaining in the third, Korostelev’s powerplay point shot rebounded off the end boards and was finished off by Adam Ruzicka. Late in the third period, he scored Sarnia’s seventh goal with his prettiest tally of the evening; he took a pass at the blueline, broke in alone, opened up Lazarev’s five hole with a forehand-backhand move and completed the hat trick in style. All in all, five shots, three goals and first-star honours in his season debut.
A top ten pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Draft, Korostelev was a seventh round draft choice of the Maple Leafs in 2015. After he faded down the stretch in his draft season, Mark Hunter saw him tumble down the order and thought it was worth betting his final pick on what he saw in Korostelev’s first half of 2014-15. Despite a relative setback in 2015-16, the Russian right winger finished the year up with 10 points in his final seven regular season games, giving him 14 points in his last eight OHL regular season appearances.