The return of Nikita Filatov

nikfilatov.jpgBelieve it or not, the life of a top ten NHL draft pick is sometimes a rough one. Take, for instance, the career to this point of 2008’s sixth overall selection Nikita Filatov. He was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets and viewed to be the next guy to slide into the lineup with superstar Rick Nash and help bring some desperately needed speed and goal scoring to a team that is/was one dimensional having Nash be the only guy to carry the load.

Former head coach Ken Hitchcock butted heads with the Russia winger and anchored him to the bench for the better part of last season as Filatov averaged about eight minutes a game. Keeping any young player buried on the fourth line and stuck to the bench is an effective way to destroy their development, so Filatov was sent back to Russia to get the ice time he’d need in a setting that was easier for him to fit into. Now, Filatov is set to return from Russia with a renewed sense of what it takes to make it in the NHL.

Filatov, considered the top prospect outside the NHL by The Hockey News only one year ago, is working out daily, excited to return to the NHL this season, and planning to arrive in Columbus in early or mid-August, about a month ahead of the Blue Jackets’ training camp.

That was the messaged delivered from Wright to general manager Scott Howson, who has decreed that all public comments by the organization regarding Filatov will run through him.

“The trip went very well,” Howson said. “Tyler worked out with him, saw him working out and had lots of conversations with Nikita.

“Tyler was extremely impressed – and he’s not easily impressed – with how hard Nikita is working.”

Filatov’s workout regiment, according to Aaron Portzline, resembles something similar to what Rocky Balboa did while training in Russia to fight Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, including dragging fallen trees and lifting and pushing boulders. I wonder if all of this was set to the song “Heart’s on Fire” and at the end of it, Filatov climbs a mountain in Siberia and yells, “Hitchcock!”

If the Blue Jackets are able to get Filatov back in the lineup and can have him jump in seamlessly and scoring, it’d make for a pleasant surprise for the team that’s currently looking at guys like Kristian Huselius and Jakub Voracek as their next best scoring threats after Rick Nash. While Voracek is starting to emerge as a better scorer, getting a raw, born-to-score guy like Filatov going in Scott Arniel’s system will make things a lot easier for the new coach.

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    Hockey world supports Brian Boyle in his battle against cancer

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    On Tuesday, Brian Boyle announced that he had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.

    As scary as the news must have been for him to hear, Boyle showed the hockey world that he’s going to have a positive outlook on this situation.

    “I feel very fortunate and very blessed,” Boyle said, per NHL.com. “We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of prayers, and if there’s anything I can ask it’s that that continues. That is something that I’ve seen firsthand heal cancers and heal situations that are said to be untreatable. For us, we’re in a good spot. We think we have a good plan of attack here and I’m looking forward to getting on the ice and playing.

    Immediately, players, teams and fans began sending him messages of support. It’s incredible to see what the hockey community can do when it comes together.

    Boyle has already stated that he plans on being in the Devils lineup on opening night.

    Jaromir Jagr’s open to many things, but not retirement or a tryout

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    Yes, Jaromir Jagr is 45-years-old. He’ll turn 46 in February.

    So, yes, even for a fitness freak like Jagr, it’s likely that he’d probably not be the best fit for a team that plays at a frenetic pace. To get the most out of the living legend, a team would have to provide a nurturing environment. There are also questions about what sort of role he’d accept and how much money he’d settle for.

    Even with all of those disclaimers under consideration, it’s maddening that we’re in late September and Jagr continues to put out semi-sarcastic cry for help videos.

    So, what’s the latest on Jagr, then?

    Well, to some extent, it’s useful to consider the process of elimination.

    Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko reports that Jagr is open-minded about the KHL, though the NHL is first choice. Jagr acknowledged that participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics would be a draw in the process.

    One thing he isn’t open to: a PTO with an NHL team.

    While there’s actually some logic to a tryout – teams might want to see how well he can move/what kind of immediate chemistry Jagr could find – it does seem a little … demeaning to a first-ballot Hall of Famer who, frankly, is still producing solid numbers.

    Eronko reports that Jagr said he’s talking to three-to-four teams, while Pierre LeBrun reports that two-to-three NHL teams are speaking with Jagr’s reps in the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading.

    (Hey, both could be correct if Jagr’s including KHL suitors in his estimate.)

    LeBrun also notes the idea Jagr is ruling out, beyond a PTO: retirement.

    Jagr doesn’t want to hang up his skates, even if it means not playing in the NHL, which would bum out a slew of hockey fans (raises hand).

    Naturally, there are creative “have your cake and eat it too” scenarios. Perhaps Jagr could sign a KHL contract with an NHL out clause of some kind, playing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and then ink a deal with a contender who a) he wants to play for and b) is now convinced he still “has it?”

    There are plenty of possibilities, and many of them are fun to think about.

    Jagr needing to try out for a team – or worse, retire – is not so fun to think about.

    Flyers experiment with Claude Giroux at LW, Sean Couturier as his center

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    Last season, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier were on the ice at the same time during even-strength situations for just a bit more than five minutes. Depending upon how a Philadelphia Flyers’ pre-season experiment goes, they could line up together a whole lot more often.

    Of course, if you missed this post’s headline, you might be asking: “But how? They’re both centers.”

    Well, under this experiment, Giroux would move to left wing, Couturier would play center, and Jakub Voracek would assume his familiar role at RW.

    Giroux came into the NHL primarily as a right-winger before moving to center, so he’s clearly versatile enough to theoretically work out on a wing. It also might allow the Flyers to try to duplicate some of their mad science from the power play to even-strength, as that’s often the role he finds himself in on that locomotive of a man-advantage unit.

    As Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post reports, Giroux doesn’t seem against it, really.

    “It was actually a lot of fun,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I’m against it or I’m not happy with it. If it makes the team better, we have a lot of centermen and I’m up for it for sure.”

    Giroux is right. The Flyers have a glut of pivots, especially if head coach Dave Hakstol views additions Nolan Patrick and Jori Lehtera (or fairly recent addition Valtteri Filppula) as better fits down the middle.

    NHL.com’s Bill Meltzer reports that Hakstol is impressed by Giroux’s willingness to move around as need be.

    “When your captain is as selfless as ‘G’ is, he [goes] all in,” Hakstol said. “Whatever the role is, he’s going to attack it… It’s early, but he’s had a very high-level camp.”

    Giroux’s been, at times, a bit more dependent on the PP to get his numbers. In 2016-17, five of his 14 goals and 26 of his assists (31 of 58 points) came on the power play.

    Perhaps Couturier could do the “dirty work” associated with a center while two gifted wingers exploit their chemistry and get to have the fun? It’s the sort of hypothesis that can make sense in a hockey laboratory, and it would be entertaining to see if it works out in reality.

    Assuming such a scientific method even makes it to October.

    Brad Marchand: NHL crackdown on face-off cheating is ‘absolute joke’

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    Earlier today, PHT’s own Cam Tucker discussed the early returns on the NHL’s plan to increase penalties for slashing and to cut down on cheating during face-offs.

    (The video above this post’s headline provides a helpful primer on how officials plan on policing draws.)

    So far, the face-off tweaks have one especially vocal critic in Boston Bruins agitator-star Brad Marchand, as CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports.

    “The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand said. “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

    Gotta love the line “Basically you have to be a statue.”

    Edmonton Oilers center Mark Letestu backed up Marchand in the “we can’t play all year like that” stance, asserting that he doubts a penalty like that would get whistled during a high-stakes game, as Sportsnet noted.

    Here’s another perspective, via Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan.

    Now, the new face-off rule might not have that huge of a direct impact on Marchand’s daily hockey life.

    In 2016-17, Marchand went 13-23 in the dot.

    It may, however, affect his fantastic center, Patrice Bergeron. The dynamic two-way center has been one of the best volume winners of draws over the years. Smarts, strength, studying tape and other factors go into winning as many as 60-percent of one’s face-offs, yet Bergeron and other top centers know how to “bend the rules,” too.

    As much as analytics-minded people grumble about excessive attention being paid to face-offs, they’re events that can set up rare opportunities for set plays and other advantageous moments.

    One can imagine that Marchand wouldn’t be pumped about the idea that, maybe, Bergeron’s dominance in the circle could be blunted, even ever-so-slightly or briefly.

    Naturally, potential self-interest doesn’t disqualify Marchand and others from being correct.

    At the same time, this is the pre-season, an opportunity for the NHL to work out its own kinks, which in this case means trying to manage rule tweaks while not disrupting the flow of games. Marchand is merely the loudest to say that … it sounds like the league might have some work to do.