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Elder Kostitsyn brother shines on first day of Canadiens camp

The Canadian Press
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Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller goes over a drill during the team\'s first full squad hockey practice. (CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz) Author: The Hockey News

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Elder Kostitsyn brother shines on first day of Canadiens camp

The Canadian Press
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The 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft worked magic with the puck on the first day of on-ice work at camp, something coach Guy Carbonneau hopes will carry into the regular season.

His brother Sergei Kostitsyn, selected 200th overall in 2005, was less flashy, but picked up good experience skating on a line with captain Saku Koivu and sniper Michael Ryder.

Andrei Kostitsyn scored a goal in each of his split squad's scrimmages and set up Guillaume Latendresse for another, while Sergei was held without a goal on his team.

"Andrei looked strong," said Carbonneau. "He scored some really nice goals and that's how we expect him to play.

"He's at a point in his career where he has to make an impression early. The last two years, he's done OK but then we sent him down to (AHL) Hamilton. He finished last season really strong with us and we expect him to start the same this year."

Without any scorers among the team's free-agent acquisitions, the Canadiens are looking to Kostitsyn to have a breakout season to add punch to the attack.

The six-foot, 200-pound right winger was cut from his first three NHL camps, but played 12 games for the Canadiens in 2005-06 and another 22 as a late-season call-up last season, when the upward spike in his level of play was particularly evident.

"I waited three years with Hamilton, I'm ready to play for the Montreal Canadiens," the 22-year-old from Belarus said. "I feel good on the ice.

"I worked very hard in the summer time. I got physically and mentally prepared to fight for a place in the lineup on opening night. My only goal is to be a Montreal Canadiens player. No more Hamilton."

Kostitsyn had one goal and 10 assists with Montreal last season, but showed flashes of a clever playmaker who is strong on his skates with the puck.

He had a good camp a year ago and was disappointed when the Canadiens opted to keep Latendresse, a budding power winger, as their only rookie forward.

"Maybe consistency was his problem," added Carbonneau. "We wanted to send him back to Hamilton to work on that and that's what he did.

"He worked at his positioning, with and without the puck, and you saw the difference when he came back here. He wasn't lost. He worked every game. He's at a stage now that he knows he can play here, but he's just got to show it on the ice."

He'll try to win a place on one of the top two lines, where Koivu, Ryder and Chris Higgins were a combo last year with Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Latendresse on the second trio.

Some think five-foot-11 Sergei Kostitsyn may be the better player of the two, especially after the 20-year-old put up 131 points, including 40 goals, in only 59 games last season for London of the OHL, where his linemates were this year's high first-rounders Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner.

"I just want a chance to make the team," said Sergei. "I was comfortable playing with Saku and Michael. That's a good line. If I don't make it, I'll go to Hamilton and try to make the team next year."

Both like the idea of playing together in Montreal, perhaps one day with their friend and fellow Belarus native Mikhail Grabovski, a centre who had 54 points for Hamilton last season.

Andrei seemed to combine well with Latendresse, who reported at a lean 222 pounds after playing at 231 last season.

A year ago, Latendresse was the fan favourite and whether he deserved to make the NHL team or not was the hot topic throughout camp.

This year, all the attention is on goaltending phenom Carey Price.

"I like it this way," Latendresse, who had 16 goals as a 19-year-old last season, said with a laugh. "I'm going to do my little job and be quiet this year.

"I'm playing with no stress."

A notable absence from scrimmages on Friday was winger Chris Higgins. He had surgery on his right shoulder this summer, which upset his summer conditioning program.

He was seen by doctor on Thursday and given the green light to play, but "they just want to be cautious with me," he said.

Carbonneau said Higgins could return to the ice any day.

After the first day, the coach said he was particularly impressed with Andrei Kostitsyn, Latendresse, rookie defencemen Mathieu Carle and Pavel Valentenko and summer signings Tom Kostopoulos and Bryan Smolinski.

Price was also impressive, although he was beaten between the pads on a quick shot by Valentenko, a sturdy newcomer from Russia who looked right at home with NHL players.

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Elder Kostitsyn brother shines on first day of Canadiens camp