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Leafs' Kostka learned a lot from Panthers' Dineen

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was instrumental in the development of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Kostka, and Monday night he'll get to see first-hand how well his former player has developed.

The 27-year-old rookie has been one of the biggest revelations for the surprising Maple Leafs this season after spending the last four years in the American Hockey League. Recalled from the Toronto Marlies after the lockout, Kostka not only has stuck around after making his NHL debut in the Maple Leafs' season opener, he has impressed.

Kostka ranks second on the Maple Leafs in ice time behind only captain Dion Phaneuf at 24:16 per game, and leads the team in blocks with 31.

Dineen coached Kosta for two seasons (2008-09 and 2009-10) with the Portland Pirates of the AHL, and again during training camp and the 2011-12 preseason with the Panthers.

"He was a great coach, a mentor to me," Kostka said after the Maple Leafs' morning skate. "It was my first two years as a pro player. I was able to learn a lot from him. He's been instrumental in my career, kind of getting it kick-started. I can't say a bad thing about the guy."

Kostka signed with the Maple Leafs as a free agent last summer after spending half a season in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. He went to Tampa Bay in a four-player trade with the Panthers in December of 2011.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Kostka," Dineen said. "I had him for two years in Portland and think highly of him as a player and an individual. I know he's been a very solid American League player for a lot of years and one of those guys you're really excited when the opportunity presents itself that he's been able to take advantage of it."

Kostka has the distinction of having played for two of the current NHL coaches with the best playing careers, Dineen and Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.

Reflecting on his time playing for Dineen, he said his resume helped him gain his players' respect.

"He can be a really intense guy, but at the same time he was a really good players' coach," Kostka said. "He understood to keep it light in the room and to make it enjoyable because that's what it's all about. We all had a ton of respect for Kevin and obviously a lot of that stemmed from his coaching but (also) his track record and incredible career he had in the NHL as a player."

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