TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 8: Nikita Filatov #21 of the Ottawa Senators shoots during warmup before NHL action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre October 8, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Ah, the first hint of controversy in the air. A drop of blood in the water. The Top 25 Under 25 was progressing without much debate, but this question was sure to arise at some point. Where does Nikita Filatov fit? How does one balance his apparently elite skill with his seeming inability to put it together at the professional level and his alleged unwillingness to change?
Entering the draft with a dozen potential selections, the draft team made it quite clear they were unlikely to select a dozen players. There would be some wheeling and dealing, we were promised. First, there was the swapping of the 35th and 48th picks for Detroit's 24th. Then, on day two, the Senators flipped a third round pick, the 66th of the draft, to Columbus for Filatov. In the immediate aftermath of the deal, Murray's move was widely applauded by fans, many in the media, and R.J. Umberger. Murray, for his part, was insistent that the trade was not a gamble. To completely paraphrase the dialogue went as follows:
Journalist: "It's a bit of a gamble, right?"
Murray: "It was not a gamble, not in any way. No."
Journalist: "Right, but it's kind of a gamble, is it not?"
Murray: "No, it is not. Not a gamble."
Journalist: "Maybe, a good gamble? But a bit of a roll of the dice, don't you think, Bryan?"
Murray: "Are you an expert?"
After a season with CSKA Moscow's second tier club in which he put up two points per game, on average, Filatov was picked with the sixth overall selection by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Pre-draft rankings were favorable, and scouts heaped praise on his overall skill-set. Some of these scouts would feel a little hot under the collar reading their own thoughts from 2008. Said one:
...quick, strong wrist shot, snaps the shot very well too...doesn't use too much the slapper...has all the tools to be a NHL star winger, his suitability to the North American play his one of his best assets.
Filatov played in three World Junior Championships and was a point-per-game player in all three. He has put up points with consistency in the AHL. His pedigree is terrific. His draft comparables were, to say the least, astronomically ahead of what he has accomplished thus far. So, Filly, what gives?
If Filatov plays in the NHL, it is sure to be in a top-six role. His projection is thus fairly curious: If he makes it, it will be because he has achieved offensive success and is contributing consistently in the NHL. If he does not do all of that, his NHL career will be non-existent. When Filatov departed for Russia, Bryan Murray made it clear the Senators intend to retain his rights. In other words, expect a qualifying offer to be tendered. There is also a strong likelihood Filatov will be skating at training camp.
There is one thing I can safely contend: The non-gamble is not over. Filatov is a 21-year-old player with outstanding upside. If, and it's a significant if, he can turn some of that potential into some poise and production at the NHL level, Filatov could become a valuable asset for this team. The uncertainty about whether he'll ever stick around in North American pro, and whether he can play with the consistency required, is what lands Filatov at 22 of the Top 25 Under 25.