As coverage of Nikita Filatov's possible flight back to Russia has reached fever pitch, it's a perfect time to compare Filatov's time in the Senators organization with that of another young Sen, Kaspars Daugavins.
Daugavins had an option to head to the KHL this offseason and play for his hometown team, Dinamo Riga. And really, if he chose to exercise that option, it would be hard to blame him. He was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2006, and never left North America. He put in time in the OHL and the AHL, and what kind of a shot did he receive in Ottawa from the time he was drafted until the end of last year's Calder Cup winning season?
Daugavins played his only NHL game to that point during the 2009-10 season, getting 8 minutes of ice-time and being sent back to Binghamton unceremoniously shortly thereafter. Even during Ottawa's disaster 2010-2011 season, when Senators fans saw almost the entire Binghamton Senators forward corps see NHL action (Colin Greening, Bobby Butler, Erik Condra, Corey Locke, Ryan Potulny, Jim O'Brien, Cody Bass, Roman Wick, and Francis Lessard), Daugavins was not called up once.
As I said, if he decided to return to Riga after not getting a sniff of NHL action last season, it would be hard to hold it against him.
Yet despite having an offer from Dinamo Riga sitting on the table, Daugavins returned to Ottawa to give it another shot. Then, he got cut during training camp. However, rather than returning to Riga at this point, he decided to stick it out in the AHL and played 7 games for the Binghamton Senators.
His hard work paid off. After two full AHL season (in addition to some earlier partial AHL seasons), Daugavins had become the player that Ottawa was looking for. He was given a call-up to the NHL, and hasn't played an AHL game since. Even when he was "sent back" to the AHL to get his wisdom teeth removed, he was instantly put back in NHL action once he was ready for it. He's not guaranteed to stick in the NHL at this point, but he's certainly making a good case for it. Filatov, on the other hand, hasn't made the same case. He put up one assist in 6 NHL games, and his AHL point totals this season are the same as Daugavins', 4 goals, 2 assists -- except Kaspars did it in 7 games as opposed to Filatov's 11.
Ottawa is a team with only 3 legitimate top-six forwards, a team where the General Manager is openly stating on the radio he's looking to trade for a top-six forward. Ottawa is a team desperate for the very thing Filatov is supposed to be. If Filatov was even close to being an NHL top-six forward, then he would certainly be in Ottawa right now. The fact that Filatov is playing in Binghamton speaks volumes about where he is in his development, and should be motivation for him to improve on his weaknesses.
This isn't a situation where some stodgy, old-fashioned hockey coach has a vendetta against young players. The Ottawa Senators organization has proven that they're willing to give inexperienced players a chance at the NHL level -- Daugavins, Bobby Butler, Erik Condra, Colin Greening, Stephane Da Costa, Jared Cowen, and David Rundblad are proof of that this season. The fact that those players find themselves with an NHL roster spot while Filatov is in the AHL indicates that the problem is not on Ottawa's end, but on Filatov's.
Filatov has to realize that he's still young, and that NHL spots are earned, not given. His situation is not unique in his draft class, either. The much-hyped Cody Hodgson, taken 4 spots after Filatov in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has still only played 26 NHL games compared to Filatov's 50. Kyle Beach, a forward drafted 5 spots after Filatov, has not even seen an NHL game.
Kaspars Daugavins spent a long time in North America with the Ottawa Senators organization without getting a proper shot at an NHL role, but he stuck around and was rewarded for it. Hopefully, Nikita Filatov can learn something from Kaspars, and won't be so quick to leave just because a permanent NHL roster spot hasn't come in the first two months with his new team.
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