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Michael Kostka out to prove he belongs in the lineup

2013-2014 Chicago Blackhawks Headshots

2013-2014 Chicago Blackhawks Headshots

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:56AM

Michael Kostka has no idea how often he’ll be in the lineup. So every time he’s out there, he knows the margin for error — if he wants to play — is minuscule.

“Sure, but I feel the stakes have always been kind of high,” said Kostka, who made his Hawks debut Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. “For me, it’s always been a bit of a proving ground. Especially when you have two other defensemen here who can play, it might make it feel a little more important that you go out and have a good showing.”

Kostka is in a three-way battle with Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank for the sixth defenseman spot. It’s really Rozsival’s job, but coach Joel Quenneville wants to limit the regular-season toll on the 35-year-old, meaning either Kostka or Brookbank — or both — will get plenty of chances.

Kostka, a 27-year-old blue-liner who played 35 games last season as a rookie for the Maple Leafs, caught Quenne-ville’s eye and earned a surprise roster spot in camp.

“He’s got some speed on the back end and can join in the attack,” Quenne-ville said. “He’s got good play recognition, he’s got a decent gap and [by giving] him a chance to get into the lineup early this season, we’ll get a better assessment.”

Kostka played on the power play in the American Hockey League and in Toronto, and might shake up the Hawks’ long-suffering unit. Kostka said he was more of a shooter on the power play in the AHL, but that he’s become more of a playmaker in the NHL since “there are guys here that have better shots than I.”

“That’s a part of the game that I enjoy playing, and I feel like it’s an asset I can bring,” Kostka said of the power play. “[But] obviously, there’s a depth of guys who can play in that role here.”

Kostka’s not expecting to secure an everyday spot right away, and certainly not based on a single game. He’s been in a platoon role for much of his career, and knows how to maintain his conditioning and timing.

“You learn to be professional and just stay on top of it,” he said. “Practices here are so quick and sharp, it’s about as close to a game as you’re going to get without contact.’’


Twitter: @MarkLazerus

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