Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time to step up: Nikita Filatov

  • Left wing
  • 20 years old, 3rd year (kinda-sorta) in National Hockey League 
  • $2,195,833 cap hit 
  • 3.7% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers with CBJ: 13 games played, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points, +/- of zero, 8 penalty minutes, 8:06 avg. time on ice
  • 2009-2010 numbers with CSKA Moscow: 26 games played, 9 goals, 13 assists, 22 points, +3, 16 penalty minutes, 16:30 avg. time on ice
Nikita Filatov scored a hat trick for the Columbus Blue Jackets
early in his NHL career.  Will the magic return in 10-11?
Can a guy get a mulligan on an entire year?  If possible, please sign Nikita Filatov up for one.  Take a look at this and try not to wince:
  • Filatov has a falling out with the Columbus system - presumably focussed on Ken Hitchcock, who buried him in the lineup and apparently lectured him about not becoming Nik Zherdev - and gets loaned to the KHL's CSKA Moscow (the original Red Army team).  He has a good initial run with CSKA and then things went sour.  
  • He played for Russia in the World Junior Championships and, after a falling-out with the coach, was stripped of his captaincy.  
  • He started training for the World Championships for Russia but got bumped once the Penguins (Malkin), Devils (Kovalchuk) and Capitals (Ovechkin) players showed up after being eliminated early from the Stanley Cup playoffs.  

Lest anyone think I've changed my tune on Filatov, don't be so quick to judge.  I've had fun (and more fun) at his expense in the past and will continue to do so when he acts like a petulant teenager.  But he's making noises like he's learned a lot (if not been humbled) over the past twelve months.  He came to town early to work out with the team - and hopefully to begin mending fences with teammates who rightfully felt abandoned when he hopped a plane to Moscow.  He said he wanted to come back to the NHL (and to Columbus) this season, and he's doing just that.  And he's 20 years old.  At 20 years old, I was an immature jerk, too.  I grew a bit since then, and it appears that he is, too.  So let's sit back and see how this all plays out...with our arms folded and a skeptical look on our faces, of course.

Let's now move to ice level and consider what Filatov brings to the roster.  Barring whatever defensive skills were instilled by Ken Hitchcock (and he has shown flashes at times), Filatov's game is largely as a sniper.  Take a look at his second and third of his hat trick goals in January 2009 against Minnesota, and pay close attention to where he shoots from:

See?  Filatov isn't a garbage goal type of guy - he's a sniper.  He'll fire away from the faceoff circles.  Snipers are valuable in that they force the defense away from the crease to defend shots like those shown above.  Much as football coaches use the deep pass to soften up defenses in order to run the ball; hockey coaches seem to be able to use snipers to loosen the opponent's defensive positioning, allow for easier rebound action and, yeah, pick up garbage goals.  Power forwards like Rick Nash and Jake Voracek who enjoy crashing the net should be salivating at the idea of having a genuine sniper back on the team (the last CBJer to even come close to being a sniper, Raffi Torres, was a trade deadline casualty).  And even though he's only 20, Filatov appears to be a pretty good one at that.  

If you don't think a sniper is a valuable asset within your top six forwards, look at the damage that the Habs' Mike Camillieri did in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year.  I don't think he ever got closer than 20 feet from the net, yet he was firing goals left and right.  And, yeah, he loosened up the interior for Montreal's other smurf forwards.  

As I was saying to anyone who would listen at CannonFest, Filatov is the canary in the coal mine on this season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He's the X-Factor.  There are plenty of other players whose performance is as critical to the success of the team, but I can't think of any whose performance will be indicative of the state of the team.  He arrives back in town with more baggage than probably any other player.  He has more to overcome in the locker room than anyone else.  He has to work himself back into the NHL mindset but also has to work himself back into the good graces of the locker room.  If he overcomes those considerable obstacles, makes the roster as a top-two line player and contributes reasonably well (I won't quantify the goal count because I don't know what a reasonable number of goals for a youngster like him would be), that is an excellent indication that all is going well for the CBJ.  It would mean that there's a level of team harmony (especially with the player who gets bumped out of the top six) and that there's chemistry on the ice between the vets and the younger talent.

In fact, let's take it a step further.  If Filatov becomes a valuable contributor for the Columbus Blue Jackets over a sustained period of time, I would be hard-pressed to see how the team doesn't make the playoffs.  

Good luck, Nikita Filatov, we're all rooting for you.

(One last thought: If Filatov's contract expires at the end of next season, how crazy will that RFA negotiation get?  The Jackets barely know what they have in him, and they're going to have to match some crazy team's outta-this-world just wait and see.)

[UPDATE: Two weeks before training camp opens, Arniel has an interview with and reiterates his position:

"Nikita has to come in here and earn a spot on our hockey team," Arniel said. "There were some ruffled feathers last year by his departure to go back to Russia, and it certainly didn't work out the way he had hoped. He didn't have the success he thought he was going to have and I think he got humbled a little bit by it. I've had a really good talk with him and he wants to play here, he wants to make this work for him. He knows that if he doesn't make the hockey team that he'll go to Springfield (in the American Hockey League). We can use his offense if he comes in and buys in to what everyone else is doing."
A little tough love for the kid.  Not a bad thing at this point in his career.]

[UPDATE 2: Jeff Rimer interviews Filatov in this "Time to step up" extra post.]

1 comment:

  1. The contract expires at the end of 2011-2012. It got bumped a year 'cause he played less than ten games in the NHL in 2008-2009.


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