Here in Columbus to cover Rangers and Blue Jackets and much of the talk at the morning skate over at Nationwide Arena was about a talented winger with questionable work ethic and desire from Eastern Europe that is frustrating Columbus coaches and management to no end.
And perhaps the worst part for the Blues Jackets is that there is a major sense of deja vu taking place with this particular situation.
The player in question now is 20 year-old Russian Nikita Filatov, who was just sent to Springfield in the AHL yesterday after the 2008 6th overall pick had recorded just seven assists---and no goals---in 23 games.
The player in question five or so years ago was Nikolay Zherdev, the 4th overall pick in 2003 by Columbus, who drove Ken Hitchcock and company so batty that he was traded away after just four seasons wearing the red, white, and blue of the Blue Jackets.
It's still too early to say that Filatov will also be dealt unceremoniously out of Columbus, but it is not too early to say that there are definite similarites between the two uber-skilled former first-rounders. At their core no one questions either's talent, but nearly all question their passion and desire.
To be fair to Zherdev he still scored 34 points in 57 games as a 19 year-old rookie in 2003-04, and also had seasons of 27 and 26 goals in Columbus. It was his seeming indifference to the game, and the fact that many close observers felt he could have been a 35+ goal scorer if he worked harder with the Blue Jackets, that got him shipped out of town rather quickly.
Filatov spent most of his rookie pro year in the minors back in 2008-09, but he caught everyone's eye by scoring four goals in 8 NHL games as an 18 year-old, too. Last year, though, Filatov scored just twice in 13 games, and then refused a minor league demotion---instead having agent Don Meehan broker a deal where Filatov would finish the season playing in Russia. By not showing a willingness to continue to hone his craft within the organization at the minor league level, where his every move could be studied and coached, Filatov raised red flags about his true desire and passion to succeed in North America.
That Meehan felt compelled to publicly state Filatov was "willing" to accept a trip down to the minors yesterday says more bad than good about the kid, and his reputation.
Scott Arniel, the Blue Jackets rookie coach, had much to say on the topic this morning.
"It's about doing the extra work before practice, after practice...we've talked about it," Arniel said of Filatov's work ethic. "He needs to continue to work at his trade and make sure he gets better every day. As for not scoring goals, he needs to bear down more, fight for rebounds. He's got some work to do."
Several times when speaking on the Filatov topic, Arniel spoke about how some players are "just not ready" for the NHL life at such a young age, and that you "can't force-feed" these players into feeling comfortable until they really are.
Though he was speaking in general terms, it seemed as though Arniel was talking specifically about the maturity level of Filatov, which has been questioned from the outside on a fairly regular basis.
"I tried to put him into as many opportunities where he could have success---on the power play, on the top lines---but there was some inconsistency with his play," explained Arniel. "We just wanted him to go out and do what he does best. But as it went along and he didn't, then you could see it really started to weigh on him. And now he was starting to press, and now he wasn't playing on the inside and his compete, at times, was not where it needed to be."
Arniel and team GM Scott Howson felt they only had one good option. And fortunately this time Filatov accepted his assignment to Springfield.
"Again, he's a young player, and he just needs to go and get confidence," said Arniel. "He has to go feel good about himself. It may take two weeks, may take two months, I don't know what it's going to be. But the first step is going there and understanding why. Some guys get it instantly, and for some it takes a little longer. We're not giving up here. It's part of the process."
Filatov was chosen sixth in the 2008 NHL Draft. Here are the five players selected before him: Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn. Quite a bit of early NHL success to be found in that group, which makes Filatov's struggles stand out that much more. Among those selected after him: Tyler Myers (12th), Michael Del Zotto (20th), Jordan Eberle (22nd), Colin Wilson (7th), and Tyler Ennis (26th).
Filatov is playing catch-up with his draft class, no question about it, but this next segment in his career---how he handles being back in the AHL and how hard he works at his craft and how much desire he shows in returning to The Show---will help determine what his future may hold.
Will Filatov be taking the Rick Nash course in Columbus. Or will he take the Nikolay Zherdev path.
Time will tell.
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