Senators Player Profile: Nikita Filatov

This is the fourth in a series of profiles on each player for the Ottawa Senators.

Nikita Filatov, C/LW, Contract: 2.195,833/12 (RFA)
Drafted 1-6/08 (Howson), 6’0, Shoots R, YOB 1990, Moscow, Russia
2008-09 8-4-0-4 +3 0pim TOI 8:07, AHL 39-16-16-32
2009-10 13-2-0-2 Even 8pim TOI 8:06, KHL 26-9-13-22
2010-11 23-0-7-7 +3 8pim TOI 12:19, AHL 36-9-11-20

Prior to being drafted by Columbus, Filatov was the captain of the Russian team that won the silver medal at the 2008 Under-18 World Championships (leading the team with nine points, the same feat he’d performed in previous year at the tournament, http://www.nhl.com/ice/draftprospectdetail.htm?dpid=211).  Filatov was GM Scott Howson’s first true draft pick (much like Bryan Murray, Howson became GM just before the 2007 draft and so was reliant on Doug MacLean’s scouting staff), but like so many talented forwards who entered the Columbus system (Jakub Voracek, Derek Brassard, Gilbert Brule, Alexandre Picard, Nikolai Zherdev, etc), things did not work out as planned.

Filatov’s first year was under the combustible Ken Hitchcock.  He performed well both at the AHL and NHL level, but his relationship with Hitchcock seemed sour from the start (a week after scoring a hat-trick against Minnesota his coach was talking about demoting him to the AHL, www.bluejacketsxtra.com/live/content/sports/stories/2009/ 01/18/jackets_notes_1-18.ART_ART_01-18-09_C6_F0CIKFU.html?sid=101).

The following season was Hitchcock’s last (not just with Columbus, but as a head coach), being replaced towards the end of the season by the short-lived Claude Noel.  Expectations were high for Filatov (http://www.dailyfaceoff.com/180/columbus-blue-jackets-20092010-season-preview), but Hitchcock remained unhappy with his defensive play and so Filatov requested a loan to the KHL in November (playing for CSKA Moscow and scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace with Denis Parshin and Konstantin Korneyev as linemates).  Externally, much of the blame for Filatov’s struggles was heaped on Ken Hitchcock (sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/ allan_muir/11/13/filatov.brunnstrom. howard/index.html and sportsillustrated.cnn.com/ 2010/writers/ jim_kelley/02/04/hitchcock.firing/index.html).

Optimism (http://www.aolnews.com/2010/09/15/2010-11-columbus-blue-jackets-preview-waiting-on-youth/) was high going into Filatov’s third year in the organisation (only his second in terms of his entry-level contract because of his games played his first season) under new coach Scott Arniel.  His ice time crept up, but there were still issues (again related to his defensive play–this link blog.dispatch.com/cbj/2010/11/ looking_for_a_split.shtml will remind you of Jason Spezza‘s early days) and he was sent down to the AHL in December.  His play was indifferent in the minors and his season was ended by a concussion a few months later.

By the 2011 Entry Draft, Filatov had asked for a trade.  Given the now deleted tweet by R. J. Umberger (http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Columbus-gives-up-on-Nikita-Filatov-deals-him-t?urn=nhl-wp8009), it seems like Filatov’s problems were as much with some of his teammates as with his coaches (although it’s hard to be definitive, since it was Umberger’s spot on the second line that Filatov took when he was  playing well).  Howson was able to trade him to Ottawa (receiving a 3rd round pick used to draft T. J. Tynan), allowing both Filatov and Columbus to move on.

So what kind of player is Filatov?  He’s talented enough to dominate at the AHL and KHL level and there’s no doubt he can produce as an NHL player, but will he?  Filatov leaves a Columbus team that has never scored more than 226 goals in a season or had more than 41 wins–a team that emphasizes defence over offence.  There is, however, no doubt that Filatov himself was part of the problem by not showing enough dedication to team play.  As Tim Murray said in an interview on The Team back on June 28th (http://www.facebook.com/TEAM1200), there’s plenty of blame that can go either way, but in Ottawa he’s going to have a fresh start and be given the opportunity to make mistakes.

It’s difficult to guess how Filatov will do in Ottawa–it’s extremely hard to find a comparable player (Alexander Semin is the closest I could think of).  I think he will make the team (he made Columbus the last two years), but how he’ll perform is hard to guess given how small his NHL sample size is.  If everything goes well he could put up 50 points and 20 goals–of course, he could also wind up in the KHL.  It will be interesting to see how his season unfolds.

Here’s his Hockey Futures profile: www.hockeysfuture.com/prospects/nikita_filatov
Filatov’s hat-trick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arXAjBUbJtM
Filatov’s pre-game routine:: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHvjdX36lUA

Next up is Zack Smith.