Saturday, May 14, 2011

Prospect Pursuit - Nikita Filatov - From Russia With Not So Much Love

by Shawn Reznik (this is an article originally written November 8th, 2010)

Nikita Filatov has been one of the most talked about NHL prospect the past year or so, but not entirely for the skill set he brings to the ice. Many sceptics have red-flagged Filatov as an indifferent or selfish player; looking out for himself with his decision to play in Russia rather than take an AHL assignment. No matter what anyone has to say about him, since he was a child playing for CSKA Moscow, Filatov’s dream was to come to North America to play in the top league in the world.

While the Ken Hitchcock saga was overblown, there were mistakes made by both coach and player, and neither side could move on.  So in the end, they both left the organization, though in Filatov’s case it was only temporary as he returns to Columbus this year and looks to establish himself as an elite offensive weapon for the club.

Prospect Pursuit was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with Russian phenom, Nikita Filatov.

Prospect Pursuit:  What have you been doing this offseason to keep busy?

Nikita Filatov:  I was training really a lot.

PP:  As you train in offseason back home, can you tell us what the major differences between the Russian style of hockey compared to that played in North American?

NF:  The biggest difference is in organization, in discipline.  Russians are more talented and skilled usually. North American players are usually more physically prepared.

PP:  There has been much controversy surrounding your departure from the NHL this past season. Do you think it was the right move for you to play one more year in Russia?

NF:  Yes.  I think it was a right decision.

PP:  If the same thing were to happen this year, would you consider going back to playing in the KHL?

NF:  I’ll make everything to be on the team this year.

What the experts say:

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, in regard to Filatov’s decision to play in the KHL, “I think the jury is still out.  It certainly strained his relationship with some in Nationwide Arena, but not in a way that can't be repaired.  Clearly, he didn't fit in Ken Hitchcock's system, and he was willing to go to that extreme to make it happen."

Matt Wagner, editor of , “I think the deal is that he's young, he's incredibly talented, and he was extremely frustrated by his situation last year.  Former head coack Ken Hitchcock made some big mistakes with how he handled the young Russian, and both sides reacted poorly.  I think he was humbled by his experiences in Columbus and his later upsets with the Russian national team (being stripped of the captaincy at the WJC, being turned down for the World Championship team).  There are people that will question his commitment to the team until we see him play a full season here in Columbus, and if he puts genuine effort into succeeding in the NHL this season, it will go a long way to repairing his reputation with the fans and the (dressing) room.

Filatov brings to the ice speed and a finesse that will leave fans in awe of what he can do with the puck.  He has top-end scoring ability and the stick handling to match.  This, along with a solid hockey IQ, and the young Russian has the makings of an offensive dynamo.

PP:  When you started playing hockey, who was your favorite player/players to watch?

NF:  I was 6 when I was playing for CSKA Moscow.  My favorite team was the Detroit Red Wings; I liked Sergei Federov and also Pavel Bure.

PP:  What do you consider to be the strengths and weaknesses in your game?

NF:  My skating and vision (are strengths) and the defensive part (of the game) is an area of weakness.

PP:  What style of hockey do you play?

NF:  I think I can score and pass at pretty much the same level, so it makes problems for opponents.

PP:  Who, in the NHL, right now, would you compare yourself to?

NF: Honestly, don’t know.  Maybe Teemu Selanne.
Aaron Portzline: “Teemu Selanne has 600-plus goals, 76 his rookie season. That's a bold self-comparison. I've had scouts describe Filatov as (Steven) Stamkos without the 1,000 RPM motor.  I can see that... The Blue Jackets are trying to get the motor firing at 1,000 RPM.  Truth is, they'd probably settle for 500RPM.

Matt Wagner: “Fans are really excited to see what he can do in a system where he gets more than five minutes of ice time a night.  He has insane offensive skills.

There may be some unspoken dislike of Filatov, but he has shown, without question, that he has a tremendous knack for finding the back of the net.  This can likely turn him into a perennial 40-50 goal scorer at the NHL level which speaks to the mass of hockey fans.  Will he reach the Gretzky mark of 92?  That is as unlikely to happen as Alexander Daigle living up to his first overall expectations, but he very well could put  a 40-goal season, or two, or three.

PP:  Do you have any pregame rituals?

NF:   Nothing unusual. Just usually put on the left skate first.

PP:  When did you realize that playing in the NHL was a possibility?

NF:  When I was drafted.

PP:  Are there any players that you have played with/against who you think will make the NHL and produce?

NF:  For sure.  Lots of Russian guys!!!!  Like Andrei Loktionov, Dmitry Kugryshev, Vyacheslav Voinov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Burmistrov, Evgeny Grachev, and Ilya Zubov.

Aaron Portzline, in regard to what is expected of Filatov in 2010-11: “hard to qualify, but Scott Arniel's up-tempo system should help his cause. I would think 15-20 goals is certainly possible if he stays in the lineup.  (Added) at his ceiling, I think he's a 40-goal player, an elite sniper.

Matt Wagner: “He seems to be working to earn a top six roll under new head coach Scott Arniel (potentially lining up with two of Columbus' other young talented players - Derick Brassard and Jake Voracek), and is likely to see time on the second power-play unit."

We can imagine that as he boarded the plane for Moscow two seasons ago, Nikita Filatov (in his best Schwarzenegger impression) could only say one thing… I’ll be back.  And that is exactly what he did, making the return trip and coming ready to show the Columbus Blue Jackets, the NHL, and its fans, just what they have been missing out on.  


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