After being selected sixth overall by the Blue Jackets at the 2008 entry draft and tallying four goals in only eight games for the Jackets last year, Nikita Filatov looks to make the big club for good in 2009.
Jackets fans have great expectations for the Russian wonder kid in 2009, after he awed them with his skillful play in limited minutes in ’08-’09, including his January 10 hat trick against the Minnesota Wild.
Many sites have tabbed Filatov as a potential Calder Trophy finalist as the league’s top rookie, as well the top remaining prospect out of the 2008 entry draft and a steal for the Jackets at number six.
In 39 games with AHL Syracuse, Filatov posted 16 goals and 16 assists for 32 total points. Also, as captain of Russia’s world junior team, Filatov scored 12 goals and 8 assists in 14 games at the World Junior Championships between 2008 and 2009.
Most expect Filatov to make the team this year, but the question is where the human highlight reel will line up.
The Jackets have a plethora of talent at left wing, Filatov’s natural position, making for a bit of a traffic jam. Going into camp, Huselius, Umberger, and either Torres or Chimera look to hold the top three left wing spots. Meaning, Filatov may be pushed back to the fourth line.
We can say almost with certainty that Filatov will not line up along the third line as it is your traditional checking line. So for Nikita to crack the top three lines, he would have to earn a position along one of the top two.
There a few ways this could happen: the most obvious of them being if he flat out earns it. We have seen rookies line up on the top two lines in the past, and if this kid is as good as they say, we may see him replace a struggling veteran at the top.
Another way would be through injury. If one of the guys ahead of him went down, Filatov could fill in nicely. Now although his natural position is at left wing, it is possible we could see him line up on the right side if need be.
A position change for a superstar like Filatov would not be unheard of in Columbus; captain Rick Nash currently resides on the right although his natural position is also on the left.
There is also the possibility of a trade making some room for Filatov along the top two lines. If the Jackets are going to make a move for a scoring defenseman, it is likely the trade bait would be from the pool of left-wingers.
Although it would likely be a winger, we can almost rule out Huselius and Umberger as trade material because of large contracts and team commitments.
So if Filatov makes the team, which we expect him to, he will most likely start out on the fourth line with the possibility of climbing up the ranks, as did Voracek and Brassard a year ago.
Fire The Cannon writers Eric Smith and Bart Logan discuss this issue and more in this week’s podcast available on iTunes and at FireTheCannon.com.