-- Coming into the 2008-09 season, about the only thing Nikita Filatov
was sure about was that he wanted to celebrate the New Year in Ottawa.
Playing in the 2009 World Junior Championship was important for him. Happily for Filatov, the Columbus Blue Jackets
, the team that chose the young Russian forward sixth at the 2008 Entry Draft, agreed.
"From the start of the season I really wanted to play here," Filatov said. "Even when I came to Columbus in September, we spoke about it and they said of course, no problem, you can go here."
The Blue Jackets were more than happy to provide Filatov with the chance to play against some of the best under-20 players in the world.
"We believe it's a tremendous opportunity for a team to have their players grow in that situation," Don Boyd, the Blue Jackets' Director of Hockey Operations and Player Personnel, told NHL.com. "We just feel it's a tremendous learning opportunity for them and tremendous exposure to a situation that hopefully the players can gain some experience from and bring it back to the program. (GM) Scott (Howson) was never hesitant in allowing Nikita play."
The move has turned out to be a good one. Six months after the Blue Jackets made Filatov the sixth pick of the 2008 Entry Draft here at Scotiabank Place, he scored the game-winning goal in Russia's quarterfinal defeat of the Czech Republic on Friday. His 6 goals are tied for second in the tournament, and his two assists against Canada in Saturday's semifinal gives him a team-best 9 points.
More than that, Howson has liked the leadership Filatov has exhibited as team captain.
"He's scoring, but I like his leadership," Howson told NHL.com. "He's exhibiting leadership on the ice. You can see it in his play, the way he reacts with his teammates, the joy he has when his team scores. Those are things we really admire and covet in Columbus. Nikita is really the leader of their team."
He's also playing a new position. A right-shooting left wing, Filatov has spent time at center as well as the wing during the tournament.
Filatov said he played center as a child, but the shift back to the middle has been a learning process.
"I just need a little more time to be working in the center," said Filatov. "I know how to do it. … I feel OK playing in the center, I just need more time to learn how to play there better. I'm OK to play center."
For now, though, Howson said he likes Filatov on the wing.
"Right now we see him as a winger," Howson said. "Maybe he'll develop into a center at some point, but he's playing wing now, I think that's where he's more comfortable. He's certainly more comfortable on the wing in North America right now. We just know he's going to be a good player and wherever he fits is where he fits."
Where he'll fit after the tournament is with the Syracuse Crunch, the Blue Jackets' American Hockey League team. Filatov, at 18 the youngest player in the AHL, had goals in his first two games in Syracuse, which earned him a four-game NHL call-up. He scored in his first game, but was returned to Syracuse at the end of October. In 23 AHL games, he has 7 goals, 17 points and a plus-6 rating.
"It's certainly possible he'll get more games in the NHL this year," Howson said, "but we haven't made that decision yet. In the immediate term he'll go back to Syracuse and continue his development there."
That's OK with Filatov.
"I've had a good season so far," he said. "I didn't expect I'd play some games this season in Columbus. I hoped, obviously. I played four games, scored my first goal in my first game. I was a bit dissatisfied when I was sent (back) to Syracuse, but after a while I realized it's a good league there, they're a good team and I like to play there, also."
The hope is what Filatov gains through individual and team success will help him when he returns to Syracuse, and eventually gains a full-time NHL job.
"This is a great event, a great experience," Howson said. "Nikita is very proud of Russian hockey and being part of the Russian team, proud of being captain of the team. This is an experience that will help him grow both as a player and as a leader and a person."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.