BY ALEX FLETCHER – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
The Ottawa Senators demoted Nikita Filatov to their American Hockey League affiliate on Monday. This marked the second time this season that the skilled Russian forward, who was promised every opportunity to succeed in Ottawa, has been nothing short of shafted by the team.
Both demotions left a lot of Sens fans scratching their heads and thinking, “What the Filatov?” So, what’s going on?
Filatov’s original demotion was largely a surprise because he hadn’t played badly at all in his first six preseason and two regular season games in Ottawa. Granted, he hadn’t produced much offence (just four assists in eight total games), but Filatov had managed sixteen shots and performed such admirable tasks as ‘backchecking’ and ‘skating hard’ – two areas in which Alex Kovalev, a former Russian Senator, could have used some work.
The most significant reason for the demotion was likely a proverbial ‘numbers game’: the Senators had fifteen NHL-calibre forwards on their roster at the time and only three (including Filatov) on two-way contracts.
However, general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Paul MacLean also mentioned at the time that the young player was “still learning how we’re playing the game and the speed we want to play the game at” (whatever that means) and needed to “be a little more competitive and hopefully score some points” in the AHL.
Well, Nikita went down and “scored some points” – four goals and an assist in seven games, to be exact – and, sure enough, earned another chance with the big club.
The problem with his second stint in Ottawa, though, was his ice time – or lack thereof. Mika Zibanejad’s return to Sweden, as well as injuries to Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Regin (unlucky number 13), opened up a spot for Filatov, which partly explains why he was recalled. But those three currently unavailable forwards averaged between around 13 and 18 minutes of ice time per game – Filatov played an average of about seven minutes during his last call-up. What gives?
It would be easy to compare Filatov to other Russian forwards, or to look at his history with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and claim that the problem stems from his poor work ethic and defensive abilities.
Watching Senators games indicated differently, though. It seemed as if every time Filatov’s line hit the ice, the puck found itself in the offensive zone. Furthermore, Filatov is lightning fast and made use of his speed to zip around the entire rink – even the defensive end. And yet he was left with very little ice time and virtually no powerplay time.
The reason Ottawa demoted Filatov this time, according to MacLean, was that the 21-year-old was “tentative and [didn’t] do as much creatively with the puck”. MacLean continued by saying “that’s what we want him to do – be creative with the puck, because that’s what he does best, hang on to the puck and make plays and set people up to score, and he can’t do that if he’s going to be tight and tentative.”
Wait a second.
Does the Senators’ coaching staff truly expect Filatov to be dynamic and to produce offence when he is forced to play with the constant fear of losing his spot on the roster, is given no more than a few shifts per game, is stuck with linemates whose most productive seasons saw them score just a few goals, and is behind such household names as Kaspars Daugavins in the shootout line-up (Daugavins’ moustache is other-worldly and he’s performed well for Ottawa, but come on…)?
Maybe the Sens have provided Filatov with a list of things to work on, and maybe Nikita’s development will end up having benefited from sheltered ice time on the fourth line and games split between the AHL and NHL. All we know for sure, though, is that Filatov was promised “every opportunity” to succeed by Murray and the Sens organization, and he hasn’t been given anything of the sort for more than a game or two.
If Ottawa wants to turn Filatov into a top-six forward (and there’s still time, as he’s only 21 years old), the team is going to have to give him more ice time and linemates who are good with the puck – otherwise, this reclamation project will end up going to waste.