The recent turn of events concerning Columbus Blue Jackets (now prospect) Nikita Filatov has led some to compare him to Nikolai Zherdev. But aside from the fact they were drafted by the same team and play for the same international colors, they have absolutely nothing in common.
Zherdev was a mopey, uninspired malcontent while Filatov is an engaging, motivated young player. But that doesn’t make Filatov’s move to the Kontinental League any less troubling. Nor does it help the Blue Jackets, who may very well be faced with the prospect of trading Filatov’s rights before next season.
It’s difficult to blame Filatov exclusively here, but you’d have to think the Blue Jackets would have preferred he had gone to the minors again and worked his way back into the NHL team’s lineup. Instead, Filatov decided to go back to CSKA of the KHL, where he’ll make the $800,000 he would have made in the NHL as opposed to the paltry $65,000 he would have made in Syracuse. Hard to argue with that kind of logic.
Ever since Filatov came to Columbus he has stated his desire to become an NHL star, but the first chance he had to go back home after facing some adversity, he took it. No matter what his reasons were or how unfairly he thinks he was treated by coach Ken Hitchcock, that tells you something about a player. It tells you he doesn’t want to be out of his comfort zone and it also tells you he might not be willing to pay too high a price to become an NHL player.
Are those fair assessments? Perhaps not, but that is the perception those kinds of moves create.
And let’s face it, Filatov is not going to the world’s greatest league, either. The KHL has some very good teams and a lot of very bad ones that are in big financial trouble. Quite frankly, the Blue Jackets have no idea how much he’ll develop playing in Russia, but they were obviously wary of alienating the player and causing a rift in what has been a good relationship.
A case could certainly be made that Hitchcock was much harder on Filatov than he has been on other players and there are whispers that being young and Russian, Filatov already had two strikes against him in Hitchcock’s book. Even if that is the case, Filatov wouldn’t be the first player who was tested and treated harshly as a youngster and sometimes it’s how you respond to those situations that makes you the player you become. Pat Burns was absolutely ruthless with Joe Thornton in Big Joe’s rookie year. Hitchcock was tough on Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek and they both responded positively.
The fact is Filatov is a slight young player of whom the team is privately concerned plays too tentative a game, particularly on the road. He’ll now go back to the KHL where he’ll have a chance to be a star and undoubtedly be a huge part of the Russian world junior team, but who knows what kind of habits he’ll pick up over the rest of this season?
And what about next year? Barring a collapse of biblical proportions, Hitchcock isn’t going anywhere and it’s unlikely Filatov will want to play there without being guaranteed the kind of ice time commensurate with a top-six forward. And since Hitchcock will only allow that kind of entitlement when pigs start taking flight, it will be very interesting to see how Filatov approaches the off-season.
It sure looks as though the skids are being greased for Filatov’s ultimate departure from Columbus.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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