directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: It get's tricky with Niki

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Monday, October 12, 2009

It get's tricky with Niki

The Jackets are riding high right now. They've matched their best start in franchise history (2003-2004) going 3-1 in their first 4 games. Back in those days the Jackets were pretending as they dropped their next 6 games... Now-a-days it's all about contending as the Jackets look to make a repeat trip into the playoffs.

This post however isn't about terrific start for the team, but the slow start for an individual. That individual being rookie blue chip sniper Nikita Filatov.

No individual should be bigger than the team and the most important thing are notches in the win column. Of course there is the rub.

The Jackets find themselves in an interesting position really for the first time in their 9 year history. How do you balance winning with grooming young blue chip talent?

It's tricky.

It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's's Tricky (Tricky) Tricky (Tricky)
It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's Tricky...Tr-tr-tr-tricky (Tricky) Trrrrrrrrrrricky

We knew from last year's rookie crop of fellow blue chippers Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek that earning ice early in the season was going to be difficult for Filatov.

This team no longer hands out ice time like candy on Halloween to high draft picks. Players have to earn it regardless of their draft standing.

On top of that this is the deepest Jackets roster to date.

Still, even with that in mind, you look at Filatov's ice time through 4 games and regardless of the wins one has to ask themselves, what gives?

Game 1: 9:18
Game 2: 7:41
Game 3: 6:14
Game 4: 4:49

Compare that to the first 4 games from Brassard and Voracek last season:

Game 1: 12:23
Game 2: 15:39
Game 3: 16:46
Game 4: 11:36

Game 1: 9:09
Game 2: 12:03
Game 3: 14:05
Game 4: 8:54

Voracek is probably the better comparable as he is closer to Filatov in age but even he saw his ice time increase before decreasing in his first 4 games. Filatov has seen his ice time dwindle to a minuscule 4:49 seconds.

What's more interesting than that is when you take a look at the TOI in the 8 games Filatov played last season:

Game 1: 9:10
Game 2: 8:38
Game 3: 4:51
Game 4: 2:54
Game 5: 8:53
Game 6: 9:59
Game 7: 7:42
Game 8: 12:53

When Filatov played last year he got more ice time than he did so far this season. Now how can that be when he's a year older with more development time under his belt?

It's tricky.

It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's's Tricky (Tricky) Tricky (Tricky)
It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's Tricky...Tr-tr-tr-tricky (Tricky) Trrrrrrrrrrricky

Last year injuries played a big part in his ice time, especially when he was recalled in January.

This year circumstance has played a big factor. The 4 games that have been played sans the San Jose game were tightly contested affairs. Filatov's playing time has been dictated by the sheer intensity of these games.

I also don't think it's a huge coincidence that Filatov saw the most ice during the Jackets home opener as Hitch had more control over who to line the young Russian up against. He also came off his strongest pre-season games leading up to that game which gave the coach more confidence in him. Once they hit the road the games were close and Hitch road the veterans.

Result: 3-1

Still though... 4:59? Hey, it's tricky!

It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's's Tricky (Tricky) Tricky (Tricky)
It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's Tricky...Tr-tr-tr-tricky (Tricky) Trrrrrrrrrrricky

Howson has stated that Steve Stamkos started off similar to Filatov last season. Let's take a look:

Game 1: 8:25
Game 2: 14:53
Game 3: 6:05
Game 4: 9:22

Indeed Stamkos didn't storm out of the NHL gates with guns'a blazin (in fact he went scoreless through his first 7 games) but he certainly saw more time than Filatov thus far. Also keep in mind it took a coaching change before he saw his time ratchet up.

To me Filatov's leash seems unfairly short at this point. That was evident the moment Hitch benched him after a penalty in the 3rd period of opening night. Yes it was a bad penalty to take at a key point of the game but if a veteran commits that penalty he doesn't miss a shift. Filatov, on the other hand, didn't see the ice after his.

To that point I ask myself aren't rookies expected to make mistakes and shouldn't veterans be held accountable for the same ones? Shouldn't their leashes be shorter as they are the experienced players who should know better?

Klesla has had his share of bad penalties and in fact leads the team in that category with 5 minors. Brassard's 4 minute minor could have cost the Jackets the game in Phoenix.

Yet back on the ice they went.

You guessed it.. it's tricky.

It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's's Tricky (Tricky) Tricky (Tricky)
It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's Tricky...Tr-tr-tr-tricky (Tricky) Trrrrrrrrrrricky

Hitch leans heavily on his veterans. Especially in situations where games are tight and mistakes have to be few. I guess it's kind of like eating out.. do you pick the brand new flashy restaurant that has the potential to blow your sucks off but could underperform or do you go with what's familiar and minimize the unknown?

Win, lose or draw Filatov's situation is shaping up to be an interesting one to watch. This isn't just an average rookie here. He was voted the #1 prospect not in the NHL last season. He's a skill player... he's not a banger and shouldn't be judged as one. Think Paul Kariya when you think Nikita Filatov.

Yes, he needs to be responsible defensively.. Yes, he needs to compete for the puck.. but he is also a rookie and there will be mistakes and there will be a learning curve.

At some point he's going to have to learn how to play in these tough games right? If not now then when? If not now then why is he here? If you aren't going to dress him only to bench him then that also means you're running the risk of overplaying someone else.

There are already rumblings that Filatov may be scratched tomorrow against Calgary because they are a "heavy team".

At some point he's either good enough to play in the NHL or he's not. Enough with the excuses.

Honestly, has he been that bad to warrant riding the pine this much? If so then I haven't seen it. I don't think he needs to be playing 12 mins a game but certainly more than 5. a minimum why isn't he out on he PP more often? He is 12th on the team in PP time averaging 44 seconds a game. This is an area he can be protected and he can contribute. I would argue he has the best one time shot on the team right now -- why not utilize it in these situations?

I've watched him closely and I don't think he's been much worse defensively or competitively than say a guy like Huselius. True he doesn't have the experience that Juice brings but if the team can compete with him they can certainly make room for Filatov.

It's only 4 games but from my cheap seats I'm not convinced they really know what to do with him or where he fits.

Perhaps Howson and Hitch are finding this.....dare I say...... tricky?

It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's's Tricky (Tricky) Tricky (Tricky)
It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's Tricky...Tr-tr-tr-tricky (Tricky) Trrrrrrrrrrricky

My biggest issue in this whole thing is his confidence and how it is fairing early on. No way to know that answer unless your in Filatov's head.

After considering all of this I find myself falling back on this point. Hitch has shown he knows what he's doing with these young players. I remember questioning why he wasn't playing Brassard and Voracek much early last season and both went on to have very successful rookie years. Brassard scored 25 points in 31 games before going down with a season ending shoulder injury and Voracek went on to score one less point (38) than Rick Nash did in his rookie season.

So perhaps we just need to sit back and let the experts who get paid a lot of money sort this thing out. Perhaps there is more to this lack of ice time than we are privy too?

Filatov is playing the good solider for now. I give it about 20 games and if his ice time hasn't increased to at/near double digits things could get.....all together now...tricky.

So tricky in fact that words like KHL and trade might start popping up in conversations.

Thanks for the assist Run DMC (and whoever that kid is in this clip).



Barga said...

it is because Filatov isnt fast enough yet. Give him game time in some easy games, and he will play a ton more in the closer ones

jemhuff said...

I don't think Filatov should be benched for the Flames game. Sure they're physical, but Hitch can control the match-ups to a certain degree, but more importantly, the Flames defense and goaltending are not very good. They've allowed 23 goals already, which is one of the highest in the league (they have played 6 games though, which is 2 more than most teams at this point). This seems like a good opportunity for Filatov to add to our lacking offensive punch.

LTL said...

Are there really any easy games in this leage anymore though Barga?

I agree Jemhuff.. the kid should play and I think we need to use him a whole lot more on the PP.. No excuse for him not to be on the 2nd unit.


Tim said...

Let the coaches coach, they have their reasons...

Then again if we did that, what else would we have to discuss, the weather????

Barga said...

speaking of the weather, i love it right now

okay, I meant a slower team, not an easier one (though there are some easy ones). I think that Filatov keeps getting pulled because he is slowing down as he is not used to the speed. Play him a ton in slow games, and space him out in fast ones, and he will build up

Rayth said...

Generally when you are lacking the details on a situation, the complete picture isn't clear.

All your analysis is great, however it's lacking a critical piece of context. Simple answer. Hitch is seeing something (or looking for something) that you aren't.

Wally said...

I agree with an earlier post: let the coaches coach. Call Hitch on his mistakes when he makes them. Right now, we have a winning record & a deep pool of talent, so there's no reason to push the kid too hard, too fast. It'll all come in due time.

CBJ_Nut said...

I think one of the reasons Filatov's playing time has been limited is that the CBJ have been taking a lot of (stupid) penalties and Hitch doesn't trust a "green" rookie on the PP unit, which is getting major minutes, especially in Phoenix. This has limited Niki's time. Also, the road-trip games have been pretty intense, being opening night, etc. It is important for this franchise to get off to a great start, which they have. I think when things settle down a bit, Hitch will find Niki the playing time he needs. But, maybe Calgary isn't the place to start, eh? (Wasn't that a great game last night with Chicago? Man, I thought the Flames were going to run away with this one. Huet really sucked at first. What was it, 5 goals on 9 shots?!! Geeeezzz.) Calgary will be tired but in a very ugly mood tonight IMO. It will be a "man's game" as RJ has stated. Niki isn't really a "man" yet. He has to earn Hitch's trust a bit more.


Stephen said...

The last game you could see Filly trying to be more physical with some hits in the 1st period. The 2nd, and 3rd period was filled with 2 5-on-3 PP, and a 4 minute PP for Phoenix, plus a one goal game. That changed the game strategy for Hitch. Otherwise I think he gets a little more ice time.

I do agree the PP may be a good place to get him some ice time. However, we don't see practice, and how he performs.

LTL said...


Understood but as fans we aren't privy to that information like some folks. Doesn't mean we can't speculate, guess and try to connect the dots with the information we do know..

To me that's part of the fun.. trying to put the pieces together and then after looking back to see if we're right, wrong or somewhere inbetween.

I could regurgitate what Howson and Hitch have said publicly but the Dispatch has that covered.

Heck for all I know maybe Filatov's lack of ice time isn't on ice related at all.. perhaps it's something he's done off the ice.

Regardless judging by the responses to this post clearly folks are interested in this story regardless of one guy's take on it.

As always.. thanks for the comments everyone!


LTL said...

Nut... that Hawks/Flames game was one for the ages.!!

Working on a gamebox for tonight's tilt.. and to me the biggest question I have is how does that loss for Calgary carry over to tonight's game?


duryosu said...

I am not going to be able to make it down to the game tonight...does anybody know of a site where I can watch the game online?

MattTheMask said...

You should be able to watch it on Center Ice if you have it. If not, R Bar will be showing it and possibly Garage Bar as well. BW3 in Gahanna has it, a lot of BW3s do. I think the one in Grandview has it too.

If you have Time Warner, then congrats, because you have currently a one month free trial of Center Ice!!!!!

Barga said...

hey, matt, when should I get to the Rbar, assuming i wana drink up before hand tonight?