There’s no question fans have warmed to the young Russian contingent that has taken the NHL by storm in recent years.
The Washington Capitals used the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft on Moscow’s dynamic Alex Ovechkin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins followed with Magnitogorsk’s Evgeni Malkin. In 2001, the Atlanta Thrashers tabbed Tver’s Ilya Kovalchuk with the first overall choice. Each has provided fans great entertainment value while living up to those lofty expectations, with Ovechkin and Malkin each earning the Calder Trophy as top rookie in 2006 and `07, respectively, and each is a finalist for this year’s Hart Trophy. Kovalchuk was a Calder runner-up in 2002, won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004 and finished second to Ovechkin this past season.
The million-dollar question now, however, is who will become the next Russian sensation to dazzle the hockey world.
Many believe that will be Moscow’s Nikita Filatov, who happens to be Central Scouting’s top-ranked European skater heading into the June 20-21 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.
``I really like what Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk have done for hockey,’’ the English-speaking Filatov told NHL.com. ``It’s so great to see those guys put on a show like that. There’s a difference in celebrations in Russia and in the NHL. There’s not as much excitement in Russia, but in the NHL, players and fans get really happy and that’s something I want to be a part of.’’
Goran Stubb, the NHL’s Director of European Scouting, likes what he sees in the 18-year-old Filatov.
``Nikita is a leader, has a great attitude, an excellent work ethic and tons of talent,’’ Stubb said. ``He has matured during the season and leads by example and is an excellent skater capable of changing pace, even at top speed. Despite his size (5-foot-11, 171 pounds), he plays aggressive, taking and giving hits. In addition to all that, the thing also attracting NHL teams is the fact he decided at an early age he wanted to play hockey in North America.’’
Central Scouting has rated 10 Russians among the top 30 European skaters this spring, but all signs point to Filatov being the only first-round draftee of the bunch.
``If Nikita can guarantee that he will play in North America next year, I see no reason why he wouldn’t be a top-five selection,’’ Stubb told NHL.com.
Filatov, who has excelled for the Russian Central Sports Army Club (CSKA) team since he was 13, said he has completed his contract obligations in Russia and has every intention of playing in North America following the draft. As an unsigned player for next season, he should not be hurt by the lack of a transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL.
Additionally, Filatov, whose mother is an English teacher in Moscow, speaks fluent English and has no apparent problems acclimating to the North American culture or ice surface.
|Filatov captained Team Russia during the 2008 Under-18 World Championships and led the team with nine points. |
This past season, Filatov continued his dominance at the junior levels, performing well with CSKA 2, registering 32 goals and 66 points in 34 games, and 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 No. 7-rated European Viktor Tikhonov (five). He also exhibited some feistiness when he was kicked out of a preliminary game for butt-ending a Canadian opponent. Filatov 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.
``I want to play in the NHL right now and I’ll do anything to make that happen as fast as possible,’’ Filatov said.
Sergei Nemchinov, who coached Russia’s Under-20 team, feels Filatov has great potential.
``He’s a talented hockey player with a good technique and good speed,’’ Nemchinov said. ``He definitely has an NHL upside because he can score, is well-rounded and responsible in the defensive zone.’’
Filatov, who interviewed with 24 of the 30 NHL teams during the 2008 NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto last month, takes great pride in playing both ends of the ice.
``I like to play in any situation – defense, shorthanded and on the power play,’’ he said. ``The most important thing on special teams is being able to skate very hard and I feel I have the energy and drive to do that. I know I have to grow up and get bigger and stronger, but I don’t think that will be a problem because I know how to do it and I’ll work hard at it.’’
He captained Russia to a silver medal at the 2008 Under-18 World Championships, leading the team with nine points, including two shorthanded goals, and was named to the tournament All-Star team.
Kirill Petrov, Central Scouting’s No. 2-rated European, has played alongside Filatov on more than one occasion.
``He’s a very good player and I hope he has a very good career in the NHL because that’s what he has always wanted to do,’’ Petrov said through an interpreter.Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer