At the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, only 15 Russians were selected. And in 2007 in Columbus, a mere nine young prospects from Russia had their name called by NHL teams. Indeed, this was the lowest number of Russians selected since 1988 and far from the high mark of 44 reached in 2000.
There is no doubt that the fact the Russian Hockey Federation hasn’t ratified the NHL/IIHF Agreement has had an impact on the decline in the number of Russians drafted lately. The NHL teams also don’t appreciate that more young prospects don’t accept learning lessons in the AHL and prefer to return to the Russian Superleague.
We don’t know yet how many Russians will be selected at the 2008 NHL draft. But so far, one young Russian is getting particular attention in the hockey world – Nikita Filatov.
Born in Moscow in May 1990, the young forward Filatov is ranked fifth overall on the ISS December list and was 10th on the TSN list published at the end of 2007.
"I’m very happy because two years ago I would never have thought that I could be ranked so high," commented Filatov to Hockey’s Future in Pardubice, Czech Republic.
With nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in seven games played in April at the 2007 Under-18 IIHF Championships, Filatov led the Russian team in scoring, ahead of the 2007 World Junior Championships IIHF Directorate Best Forward Award and NHL first-round selection Alexei Cherepanov (17th overall, NYR).
"He is a young talented hockey player with a good technique and good speed too," commented the U-20 Russian Team Coach and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Sergei Nemchinov. "He has definitely a NHL upside because he can score, he is a well-rounded player and he is responsible in the defensive zone."
A hard worker
After four games played at the 2008 WJC, Filatov has recorded five points (1 goal, 4 assists), which ranks him second in the Russian scoring leaders only trailing to Viktor Tikhonov who has six points (5 goals,1 assist).
"I think that my main strengths are my speed, my capacity to see the open guys on the ice and my passing," said Filatov.
Nemchinov is pleased with the play of his young forward so far. "You know he is two years younger than the majority of the kids here, he played a couple of bad periods but overall he played well," said the Russian coach.
In the tournament, he never stops working, he shows a great energy, he is involved physically despite his small stature of 5’11 and 165 pounds. Indeed, on the ice, he looks like a North American player.
In the semi-final game against the Swedes, Filatov scored the only goal of the Russian team on a good pass from Cherepanov. Filatov used his speed to cut around a Swedish defenseman outside and find a hole at the left side of the goaltender. He was the best forward for his team in that game.
Would like to play next season in North America
Unlike most of the Russian young players, Filatov already speaks fluent English.
"My mother was a teacher in Moscow and she is now giving private English lessons, I guess this is why I speak English,” Filatov explained after a practice in the CEZ Arena. The young Russian also has a basis in French having learned the language for 5-6 years. "I’m not good at it, I haven’t used it for about three years now," he said with humility.
The youngster has a lot of success at school as well. "He is very clever, he won an important prize at school and unlike many Russians players, he comes from a good family," said a Russian journalist.
"Yeah, I have success at school, I suppose it comes from my parents, who told me that I have to keep studying in the case a professional career would not work for me," stated the young forward.
Like many others, Filatov played at the Quebec Pee Wee hockey Tournament when he was a kid. "It was a wonderful experience," he recalled.
Playing in the NHL remains his dream. But he is not sure where he will play next year. "Right now, I’m not playing with CSKA [in the Superleague], I’m only playing with the second team of CSKA and I’m not happy about that," he pointed out.
"Where I will play next year will depend on the draft but I would like to play in North America," said Filatov who still has three years, including this one, on his contract with CSKA.
There is no doubt that he has great potential, but his future will highly depend on the interest by the NHL teams to take a chance on a Russian. His style of play and his facility to adapt to the North American culture may be an important factor in where Filatov is selected next June.
Filatov has great qualities. He will have though to build his body to be competitive in the NHL.