The life of a potential phenom in the NHL can have its ups and downs. The ups come when you’re an exceptional talent like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin and can have the world at your feet because you’re just that talented. The downs come when you’re exceptionally talented player who struggles within a rigid team system. For Blue Jackets Russian prospect Nikita Filatov, life has been more downs than they have been ups when it comes to NHL life. Last year, Filatov spent most of the season away from Columbus playing in the KHL so as to continue playing hockey in a more comfortable situation and far from the lock-and-key style of now former head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Now that Filatov is back in Columbus ahead of Blue Jackets training camp, he’s speaking about his year away and where he’s at now both as a player and as a person coming back to a situation that is familiar in Ohio, yet very different as Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch found out.
Q: Do you feel like [new Columbus head coach Scott]Arniel wants to play a style that better suits your skills?
A: Every player would like the coach who sees the game the same way, who feels it the same way. Of course, I would like that, but we’ll see. I haven’t met (Arniel), so all I know is what other people tell me about how he likes us to play.
Q: Did you ever feel comfortable in former coach Ken Hitchcock’s system?
A: I can’t say anything bad about Hitchcock. It’s his vision of hockey. He’s one of the greatest coaches in the league. He’s had success. You can’t say anything about it. He did win the Stanley Cup. And to be honest, I can say he taught me a lot, especially my defensive game. Maybe I didn’t like all of his processes, how he taught it, but I learned a lot. The coach in Russia (Sergei Nemchinov), when I came back, he said he was impressed that I was playing the best defense. Of course, Hitcher taught me a lot here.
Trying to read between the lines here of what Filatov is saying seems pretty easy to do. A hard-minded coach like Hitchcock wants a player to be able to backcheck in all zones and is willing to sacrifice offense to make it happen. Filatov is a guy that needed seasoning in the first place as when he was drafted he was still a pretty thin guy. Now he’s a little bigger and a little stronger and a lot wiser (it would seem) and adding muscle and smarts to a guy that was already a quick and offensively gifted player can amount to the Blue Jackets seeing an offensive blast out of the blue next season.
Whether this pans out and new coach Scott Arniel can make things work with what could be a very gifted offensive team and not just Rick Nash and eleven other guys remains to be seen. Filatov has the talent to be a top six forward by leaps and bounds, whether his development was stunted in Columbus from playing in the AHL to playing a handful of minutes per game in the NHL is unknown, but if he can shake all of that off, he might turn out to be one of the mentally toughest players in the league.