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The return of Nikita Filatov

Jul 15, 2010, 10:29 AM EST

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nikfilatov.jpgBelieve it or not, the life of a top ten NHL draft pick is sometimes a rough one. Take, for instance, the career to this point of 2008’s sixth overall selection Nikita Filatov. He was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets and viewed to be the next guy to slide into the lineup with superstar Rick Nash and help bring some desperately needed speed and goal scoring to a team that is/was one dimensional having Nash be the only guy to carry the load.

Former head coach Ken Hitchcock butted heads with the Russia winger and anchored him to the bench for the better part of last season as Filatov averaged about eight minutes a game. Keeping any young player buried on the fourth line and stuck to the bench is an effective way to destroy their development, so Filatov was sent back to Russia to get the ice time he’d need in a setting that was easier for him to fit into. Now, Filatov is set to return from Russia with a renewed sense of what it takes to make it in the NHL.

Filatov, considered the top prospect outside the NHL by The Hockey News only one year ago, is working out daily, excited to return to the NHL this season, and planning to arrive in Columbus in early or mid-August, about a month ahead of the Blue Jackets’ training camp.

That was the messaged delivered from Wright to general manager Scott Howson, who has decreed that all public comments by the organization regarding Filatov will run through him.

“The trip went very well,” Howson said. “Tyler worked out with him, saw him working out and had lots of conversations with Nikita.

“Tyler was extremely impressed – and he’s not easily impressed – with how hard Nikita is working.”

Filatov’s workout regiment, according to Aaron Portzline, resembles something similar to what Rocky Balboa did while training in Russia to fight Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, including dragging fallen trees and lifting and pushing boulders. I wonder if all of this was set to the song “Heart’s on Fire” and at the end of it, Filatov climbs a mountain in Siberia and yells, “Hitchcock!”

If the Blue Jackets are able to get Filatov back in the lineup and can have him jump in seamlessly and scoring, it’d make for a pleasant surprise for the team that’s currently looking at guys like Kristian Huselius and Jakub Voracek as their next best scoring threats after Rick Nash. While Voracek is starting to emerge as a better scorer, getting a raw, born-to-score guy like Filatov going in Scott Arniel’s system will make things a lot easier for the new coach.

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