First things first: Nikita Filatov is not Alexander Ovechkin. Just because Nik’s Russian, wicked-skilled and the top-ranked European in the 2008 NHL Draft, everyone needs to take a breath, give the kid a break and not make that leap.
With that out of the way, there’s still reason for hockey fans to be pumped. At a time when so many supremely skilled young forwards are entering the league, Filatov’s gifts give him the potential to one day be mentioned in the same sentence as every under-23 offensive sensation not named Crosby and Ovechkin.
No, I didn’t forget to include Evgeni Malkin.
I’ve heard enough from scouts across the league that I’ve known for years and respect greatly. To a man, here’s what they say about Filatov:
· With proper development and the expected filling out of his thin-pretzel frame, the Russian can score 35 goals by his third NHL season. And then take off from there.
· While his energy and passion are not at the Ovechkinian level – really, whose are? – the kid’s love for the game comes through in his play.
· Right now, he couldn’t check anyone in the NHL, but his desire to learn will result in Filatov becoming an adequate player in his own end.
· Off the ice, he’s a delightful kid. The NHL teams that met with Nikita and his parents were impressed and felt comfortable that the kid wants to have a long career playing hockey in North America.
Very few teams seem to have question marks about Filatov. Usually by now you could have found some rock-head NHL scout with Western League-lust who would have whispered something awful like “He’s a dog.” Like the guy who told me after the Islanders drafted Ziggy Palffy in the second round, “A little early to be drafting a Czech, don’t ya think”?
(Yes, I know Ziggy is from Slovakia. The scout was stupid and ignorant).
But I haven’t heard of anyone dogging Filatov. He is almost unanimously considered a top-8 selection. My estimate is that at least two-thirds of the league will tell you Filatov is easily the second-best forward available, behind Steven Stamkos.
So now the question is, will Nikita Filatov still be on the board when the New York Islanders draft at No. 5?
There’s a good chance. Tampa Bay will take Stamkos at No. 1. While I’m told LA likes Filatov, I have a hard time picturing GM Dean Lombardi pass on Drew Doughty at No. 2. With the left shot D Thomas Hickey and righty Doughty, the Kings could be set for a while. Everyone drools over the dmen at the top – Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Zack Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers – but deep down just about everyone sees Doughty as the surest of the sure things.
Atlanta has the third pick and knows they have yet to develop a stud defenseman since they entered the league. That ends on June 20, when Don Waddell selects the second-best defenseman. My money is on Don’s scouts recommending Bogosian.
By the way, I don’t think you’ll see any trades leading to movement between picks 2 and 5. There’s so much talent available, I’m not sure any of the GMs have the nads to give up their position.
Which leaves only St. Louis standing in the way of the Islanders having the option of taking Filatov. What I think I know about the Blues’ hockey ops staff tells me they would love to have Pietrangelo, Myers or Schenn become the Chris Pronger to Erik Johnson’s Scott Niedermayer. What we know about the Blues' goal to get back on the map makes you wonder: could they really pass on a potential breakout star in Filatov? Could they really pass on this?
For the Islanders and their fans – and most hockey observers on Friday night, June 20 – this is where the drama is.
Which, of course, leads to the final question:
If Filatov is there at No. 5, will the Islanders take him?
I wouldn’t know even if I still worked there, but consider this: DiPietro...Okposo...Filatov.
That’s a franchise building from within that could suddenly get a whole lot more exciting.