Filatov, Jackets may both benefit from agreement

November, 17, 2009

Nikita Filatov will finally get to play -- without the pay cut.

And that's what you call a happy, temporary separation.

The 19-year-old forward, the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft, will get to make a decent wage with CSKA Moscow after the Columbus Blue Jackets announced a loan agreement with the KHL club Tuesday. Had Filatov been assigned to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, his two-way NHL deal would have called for him to make $65,000 in the minors. Although nobody connected with the Russian club would say Tuesday, it is believed he'll at least match the $875,000 he would have earned in the NHL this season.

So, for now, everyone goes home happy. Filatov was a healthy scratch six times this season and played fourth-line minutes under head coach Ken Hitchcock, who clearly didn't trust the youngster. If you don't play 200 feet for Hitch, you're toast. But perhaps the biggest factor is that the 180-pound Filatov needs to beef up physically.

The lack of trust from the coach clearly had an effect on Filatov's confidence. He looked tentative near the end. This kid has oodles of talent, serious world-class skill. He just needs to press the reset button and get things going in the KHL.

"It was becoming more frustrating for him to try and gain the ice time," Jackets GM Scott Howson told "He's got to play more and develop more. This way he'll go back and play there in his home and he'll play in the world juniors and hopefully have a good experience there.

"It's all about him playing more and getting stronger, too. He needs to get stronger."

It also tells you how far along the Blue Jackets organization has come under Howson and Hitchcock that it could even afford to send a prospect of this caliber to Russia. Two years ago, they'd be playing him out of necessity, no matter his foibles. Now they're a deeper team, on which roster spots are earned, not given away.

The hope is that Filatov returns a new man next fall.

"Our agreement [with CSKA Moscow] is for the rest of this year, and we expect he'll be back for the start of next training camp," Howson said. "Our agreement is pretty clear about what our rights are."

When he does come back, Filatov has two years left on his NHL entry-level deal. This season has already counted toward that first NHL year.

And finally, when the young man does return to Columbus, here's hoping he has matured a bit as well. He didn't do what it took to become an NHLer. Perhaps he'll figure it out after a season in Russia.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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