The Columbus Blue Jackets never have been afraid to take a European player with a high draft pick. They demonstrated this again when they selected Russian Nikita Filatov No. 6 in the 2008 Entry Draft.
Filatov appears to be dedicated to making things work in Columbus, and coach Ken Hitchcock has been impressed so far by his commitment to his new team.
Filatov "knows as much about our team as some of the players already in our organization," Hitchcock told The Columbus Dispatch. "He's immersed himself in what's going on with our organization."
The face of the Blue Jackets is Rick Nash, who has matured into one of the top goal-scorers in the NHL. But Columbus has struggled to find someone to set up Nash. The hope is Filatov could be that player.
"I think I play like a playmaker," Filatov said. "I also like to play on defense. I like to help the team to win the game. I think I can give good passes and also I think I am fast enough so I can play left wing or center, both good."
The top-rated European skater by NHL Central Scouting heading into the 2008 Draft, Filatov has world-class skills that could make him the latest Russian to have a major impact in the NHL. He recognizes other talented Russian forwards are thriving in the NHL despite the fact the number of Russian players in the League has declined every season since 2003-04.
"Of course I think that (Alex) Ovechkin and (Evgeni) Malkin now are the best forwards in the League," Filatov said of the Hart Trophy finalists, who finished 1-2 in the League scoring race last season. "Ovechkin, anyway, is the best because he's sure unbelievable this season. And of course, so young that I think he's got very good career."
While Ovechkin and Malkin are idolized in Russia as well as North America, Filatov's biggest influences were not players.
"I think it may be my mother and my first coach," Filatov said when asked about who's had the biggest influence on him. "They're the persons who helped me all the time. My first coach from (age) 6 to this moment was teaching me all the time how to play hockey, how to understand the game ... and my mother, she helped me everywhere in life just to make me a good man, a good boy."
"I think I play like a playmaker. I also like to play on defense. I like to help the team to win the game. I think I can give good passes and also I think I am fast enough so I can play left wing or center, both good.”
-- Nikita Filatov
Filatov will join other talented youngsters in Columbus. Jakub Voracek, selected No. 7 in the 2007 draft, led the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 101 points in 53 games. Derick Brassard, selected No. 6 in 2006, had 51 points in 42 games with Columbus' American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, and played 17 games with the Blue Jackets last season.
If Filatov is cleared to play in North America, he understands it could be in Columbus or Syracuse. He also was selected by the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League in the Canadian Hockey League import draft. No matter where he winds up, Filatov wants to play on this side of the Atlantic this season.
"Of course I'd go (leave Russia)," Filatov told The National Post. "Of course, I understand that I might have to go to junior or the American Hockey League. It's not a problem. It's OK."
Filatov's desire to play in the NHL is strong, and he will stop at nothing to get to Columbus.
"Maybe about when I was 12 or 13 years, I was thinking about it to be very good if I would one day play in the NHL, because it's like a dream," Filatov said.
Filatov displayed some of his skill for Russia at the 2008 World Junior Championship, where he led his team and was second in the tournament with nine points in seven games as the Russians captured the bronze medal.
The Blue Jackets are hoping that Filatov can have the same success in Columbus that he's had playing for Russia.