At 27, Toronto Marlies defenceman Mike Kostka might not be the "shiny new toy" as coach Dallas Eakins likes to call a hot rookie prospect.
But Eakins believes the Toronto-born Kostka is well deserving of his invite to the Maple Leafs training camp, one of six Marlies trying to make the big club this week at the MasterCard Centre.
"I don't know why (he has never made an NHL team) but if he had been in our organization, he would at least have gotten an audition," Eakins said. "He has been very, very good (with the Marlies). He's one of the top point-getters in the league from the back end. He has got ice in his veins when he has that puck. He's a good character and leader as well.
"The great thing about guys like him is it shows you that development doesn't stop at 22. For me, it has never been about a player's birthdate. Players are all prospects. Whoever can help the team is who can help the team."
While most observers raved about the play of defenceman Jake Gardiner before he was sidelined five weeks ago with a concussion, Kostka's play has been equally impressive. He initially was paired with Gardiner on the first-team power play unit with the Marlies but then played with former NHLer Paul Ranger and quarterbacked the power play.
With Gardiner still sidelined, Kostka is being given every chance to be one of the Leafs' prime puck-moving blueliners when the 48-game NHL season opens Saturday night in Montreal.
On Monday, Kostka primarily played with rookie hopeful Morgan Rielly. Both can skate and both know how to handle the puck. But it's doubtful both will make the team. Rielly can only play five games before he loses a year of junior eligibility and coach Randy Carlyle won't keep Leafs first round pick from last season unless he's one of their top-six blueliners.
When he joined the Leafs for an unofficial practice late last week, Kostka was tied with three players for fifth in AHL scoring with 34 points (six goals, 28 assists), including 15 power play assists (18 power play points) in 34 games.
There could be a distinct Marlie look to the Leafs in Montreal. Marlies goalie Ben Scrivens is challenging incumbent James Reimer for the No. 1 netminding job. Both will start the season unless GM Dave Nonis swings a deal with Vancouver for Roberto Luongo.
Mike Kostka is a prospect despite his age
Toronto Star | Jan 14