When the Ottawa Senators drafted Jeff Costello in the fifth round (146 overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, there was little fanfare. He was preceded by more highly-touted draft picks, like Jared Cowen and Robin Lehner, and came just 14 selections before local product Corey Cowick was selected from the Ottawa 67s. With the season he's having so far on the USHL's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, though, you've got to think his ranking on the Senators' depth chart may be rising rapidly.
In 32 GP so far this season, Costello's put up 20G and 12A for 32P, good enough for 18th in the USHL scoring race. He's also +15 on the year (tied for 11 in the USHL) and, perhaps most tellingly, is third in the league with 101 PIM. I had the opportunity to talk to Costello about his career so far and his thoughts on the Senators, and he said that physicality is a big part of his game, and (judging by his PIM total) he obviously walks the line.
"I think I’d fall as a very physical forward that likes to bang the body around," Costello said, "But at the same time, I have the ability to score. Not necessarily pretty goals, but I can get those dirty, greasy goals that you have to have. I like to lead by example, and really bring the physical part of the game and get a lot of that exposed out there."
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Costello's already within a point of matching his point total from last season, and says the confidence of being a sophomore player has made all the difference.
"It’s pretty different coming in for a second year, you’ve got a lot more confidence. A major part of your first year is just adjusting to the league, getting yourself adjusted. Right now, things are going pretty well, for me and for the team. I’m really excited for the remainder of the season."
Although it's difficult to project how his success so far in the USHL could translate to the professional ranks, whether in the AHL or the NHL, Costello sounds like the type of player Bryan Murray likes: A physical force who's not afraid of getting his nose dirty when driving the puck to the net. Although he's average in height at 5'11", Costello weighs in at 202 lbs, similar in size to Ottawa's Chris Neil--and apparently similar in disposition.
In fact, because of his style and that of the Senators' team Murray has assembled, Costello had a pretty good idea Ottawa was one of two teams he'd likely be picked up by. And he sounded excited by the fact that he's a part of the Senators.
"From how certain teams talk to you, you can kind of tell [who’s interested], Costello said. "And the style of play they have on the team, you can guess. I figured it was between Ottawa and Philly, and Ottawa ended up selecting me, which was awesome; being selected by a Canadian team, [because there’s] a lot of pride in their hockey team up there."
The USHL, a midwestern USA-based junior hockey league similar to the CHL (although not as renowned), has produced a good number of notable prospects recently, including Senators 2008 second-round pick Patrick Wiercioch as well as Montreal Canadiens' 2009 first-round pick Louis Leblanc and Washington Capitals prospect/American hero (and, for a time, the most hated person in Canada) John Carlson. For Costello, it was an easy choice to take the USHL route.
"It’s an unbelievable development league for players," Costello explained. "You get lots of exposure, the exposure is almost unmatched, I would say. The competition is really good, too; every team is good. There are no cupcake games, so it develops you into a really good hockey player."
This off-season, Costello got a taste of what hockey was like for pros in Ottawa at the development camp.
"It was awesome, they took the best care of us. You get the opportunity to put faces [of other prospects] to names, you’ve been talking to these guys a little bit. It was a pretty cool experience, being in the arena, the locker room, it was a humbling experience, but at the same time it was really exciting. One day you could be in this arena with your nameplate above the stall."
For the time being, though, Costello's still working with his teammates on the RoughRiders to maintain their success so far in the regular season--they currently sit at second in the East Division with 40 points--and to carry that forward into the playoffs. He's committed to attend Notre Dame University after this season, so is still a few years off from the professional ranks, but he almost certainly hasn't disappointed Senators brass so far.