“Initially, I was thinking no way,” Kostka said. “It just doesn’t seem to add up.”
What Kostka didn’t get was where he fit in the Blackhawks’ equation. The Blackhawks were already returning all seven of their defensemen from last season’s Stanley Cup championship team, and they also had a couple prospects on the verge of the NHL.
Yet, Kostka signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks in July because his agent, Justin Duberman, and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman convinced him that he had a legitimate shot of making the team.
Duberman and Bowman can now tell Kostka, “We told you so.” Kostka beat out defenseman Ryan Stanton for the Blackhawks’ eighth and final defenseman roster spot over the weekend.
“It means a ton,” Kostka said of making the team. “It was a stressful few weeks, that’s for sure, with my goal coming here and stick out of camp and give myself an opportunity to play for this team. They were coming off a pretty good year last year, so coming into it I was hoping to put my best foot forward, and I feel like I did.
“Chicago was the one team I felt I was going to get my best opportunity despite how deep they already were. I was kind of chuckling to myself after I signed. Of all of the places, I didn’t think this would be one of them. But I was thrilled to get the opportunity and thrilled to move forward.”
Kostka had a few interested teams in the offseason because of his play with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. He played 35 regular-season games and one playoff game with the Maple Leafs.
As much as Kostka appreciated his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, he didn’t feel like his entire skill set was being utilized. He wasn’t given much offensive freedom in Toronto, and that was something he thought he could get more of in Chicago.
“I take pride in playing an all-around game,” Kostka said. “I think the one thing that was really attractive here is it’s a puck-moving team. We got awesome forwards and just basically get them the puck and get into the play. That’s a style of game I Iike to play. I think it’ll mesh with the team.
“It was a bit of an adjustment to how things were in Toronto, a more defensive-minded team. And so, it’s a breath of fresh air coming in. I think I gel a little bit more with this style of play than maybe in a more shutdown role I had in Toronto.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville began mentioning Kostka early in training camp as someone who caught his eye. As the camp progressed, Quenneville became more impressed and eventually decided to choose Kostka over Stanton, which also meant putting Stanton on waivers and losing him to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
“Kostka’s one of those defenseman who is useful as far as both sides of the puck,” Quenneville said. “I think he gives us nice offense from the back end. He’s versatile. He can defend well. He’s got quickness. He’s very handy with the puck.
“He just adds more depth to our team. Losing Stanton says something. It’s something we didn’t envision. But at the same time, getting [Kostka] regularly in there at some point you get a better assessment of what he’s capable of. Offensively, he really complements our style of play.”
Just as his agent thought he would.