In a year where teams certainly had the opportunity to dive head-first into an extremely deep and talented crop of North American players, the Columbus Blue Jackets
decided to play a little Russian Roulette Friday at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place.
Despite the lack of a transfer agreement between the Russian hockey federation and the NHL, the Blue Jackets rolled the dice and tabbed Russia's newest dynamo, Nikita Filatov
, at No. 6 overall.
There's no question Filatov, the top-rated European skater according to NHL Central Scouting, has the goods.
Because of doubts about the status of player contracts in Russia, as well as whether those players can and will come to North America to play, many teams considered drafting the 5-foot-10, 171-pound left wing a risky proposition.
Filatov, whose speed and deft touch around the goal has earned him comparisons to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin
, has openly admitted his desire to play in the NHL since he no longer has any contractual obligations in Russia.
"I am not under contract and was not offered another contract since they know I want to play in NHL," Filatov confirmed. "Growing up, I enjoyed watching (Pavel) Bure and (Sergei) Fedorov and to have a chance to play in the NHL like they did is a great feeling.
"I'm prepared to do whatever Columbus asks me to do and if that means playing juniors for a year, I will do that," he said. "I realize I just have to get stronger and bigger and I think I'll be ready."
Last year, the New York Rangers
selected Alexei Cherepanov
, who was considered the best European skater on the board, when he slipped to No. 17 due to his contract status with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League. Cherepanov has yet to play a game in North America.
Columbus General Manager Scott Howson doesn't foresee any difficulty in getting his prized possession into a Columbus jersey in the near future.
"We know he terminated his contract in Russia, which, from our understanding, you are allowed to do under Russian law, so he's free to sign an NHL contract," Howson told NHL.com.
"We had a feeling Nikita might be there at No. 6 and we certainly did a lot of homework on him and met with him three times. He got to know us and now it's up to us to make sure he develops properly and that he becomes a Columbus Blue Jacket.
"The first order of business is to get him signed and we'll try to do that quickly and then we'll see if he can come over (during) the summer to our developmental camp and then training camp. Then we'll discuss where we think he should develop."
Central Scouting rated 12 Russians among the top 40 European skaters entering this weekend's festivities, but Filatov was the one of just two Russians to be drafted in the first round.
, the grandson of the Russian coaching legend, was selected by Phoenix at No. 28 Friday night.
Many expect Russian Kirill Petrov
, a physical 6-2, 221-pound power forward rated No. 2 among European skaters by Central Scouting, to be chosen Saturday.
Petrov, however, still has three years remaining on his Russian contract with Kazan of the Russian Super League.
Filatov, who has excelled for the Russian Central Sports Army Club (CSKA) team since he was 13, speaks fluent English and has no apparent problems acclimating to North American culture. His teen-idol looks and charm will most certainly provide him plenty of publicity opportunities once established in Ohio.
"I'm excited to show the fans of Columbus what I can do as soon as possible," Filatov said. "I know my family, my friends and my coaches back in Russia are very excited for me and they know that this was an important decision for me."
This past season, Filatov continued his dominance at the junior level, performing well with CSKA 2, where he scored 32 goals and 66 points in 34 games. He also excelled on Russia's Under-18 and Under-20 squads.
His performance at the World Junior Championships was especially impressive, particularly since he was one of only two 17-year-old forwards on the team. He led Russia in points (nine) and plus-minus (plus-7), while finishing second in goals (four) behind Tikhonov, who is the No. 7 rated European in this year's draft.
Filatov also exhibited some feistiness when he was kicked out of a preliminary game for butt-ending a Canadian opponent. The Russian winger also made his debut in the Super League, the highest division of professional hockey in Russia, performing in five games as a fourth-line winger.
"Coach (Ken) Hitchcock knows (Nikita) is a dynamic offensive player and I think he's very excited to be getting another skilled, young player who will star for the team," Howson said.
New Jersey native Kyle Palmieri
, who was a member of the U.S. National Under-17 Team that twice faced Filatov, was impressed with his opponent's all-around knowledge of the game.
"His speed was deadly on the international level and that will definitely carry over to the next level he plays," Palmieri told NHL.com. "From only playing against him twice, I noticed his ability to see the ice and be a deadly offensive threat when he has the puck on his stick. Also, for a player who has much offensive skill, he showed that he is just as responsible on the other side of the ice in the defensive zone. I learned a lot playing against him and it was a great experience."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.