August 25, 2009
Nikita Filatov(notes) of the Columbus Blue Jackets has appeared on Puck Daddy before, memorably answering a question about his resemblance to Amanda Bynes of "She's The Man" by saying, "It's not very flattering to be compared to an actress."
That was during his first NHL season. Filatov has been back in Moscow since the middle of June, getting ready to contribute to Columbus after the Blue Jackets made the playoffs for the first time. It could be a breakout year for the young Russian winger.
Writer Pavel Lysenkov originally conducted this interview and it was published in SovSport here.
Q. Did you gain some weight in the summer?
FILATOV: I only gained 8 kilograms [17.63 pounds].
Is it too little?
I want to add a couple more kilos. Last season I weighed 75 [kilos]. I need to add muscle mass. I have never been a power forward. But I had to adjust for the NHL. When you go for a hit, there is no reason to put a shoulder out for a 100 kilo mass.
But in the NHL it is impossible not to hit. No one looks at your size. So, extra muscle will help a lot. I didn't think about it in Russia at all, because the style of hockey in different.
I have been training with fitness coach Alexander Troshin since I was 15. Kovalchuk also works with him. It's just before when I played for CSKA my training used to start in June. And now it shifted because NHL season starts later.
That means you had never skated with Kovalchuk before?
We skated together with CSKA's junior team at the end of last summer. Someone actually accidentally knocked out Ilya's two teeth with a stick... It is fantastic to work with Kovalchuk. You try to gain experience from a legend.
That means you look at Kovalchuk as if he is a legend?
It is so easy and pleasant to talk to him. But the age gap between us is seven years. Kovalchuk is a phenomenal player, one of the best in the world. I respect him a great deal.
What else changed in your game?
I became more active on rebounds, I shoot more. Before, I could pass from a good position. Now I aim for the net. It's not just about statistics that is reflected in the size of the contract. This is North American hockey. If you play it right, goals and points will come.
Evaluate your chances in Columbus. Will you get into the first team in the coming season?
I don't even want to think about a different outcome. I have been working very hard this summer. Nothing should stand in the way of me getting into the NHL. Ideally, I have to break into the second line where there is more ice time; you play more on special teams.
Were you called to the KHL this offseason?
I was called this summer and during last season. I am not going to name teams...
And I bet you were offered more money.
A lot more. Times more.
What is holding you in America?
When I was 18 I made a decision to play in the NHL. This decision did not come easy. But what is the point of backing off now? It would make more sense if I didn't play well. But everything is going good for me right now across the ocean.
Speaking the language of finance, your stock should go up before you sell it. When you start playing like Ovechkin you will make $9-$10 million per season.
I am not even thinking about the money. I am just 19! Everything will depend on my game. If I end up in the farm team or on the bench, it would be one thing. Then you can start thinking about the KHL. Simply because I [would not be] playing hockey. But right now my aspiration is that I must break into the NHL and play the entire season there. Also the moral side of the question is important. I don't want to lie to Columbus who I have a valid contract with. Everyone treats me really well. I hope I will play for that team.
What did a year in America give you from a life perspective?
I went through a school of life in Syracuse when I was playing for the farm club. I lived there in an apartment all by myself. How was in it Russia before then? You come home, there is a plate in front of you. And there [it was different]. You come from practice, then go to a store and cook [for yourself]. You hold the phone to your ear. Moscow is on the other line giving you instructions how to fry potatoes.
You graduated from high school [in Russia] with a silver medal [outstanding achievement].
Yes, I actually did it when I was 15. The last two years of high school were externship. Just three years ago my mom did not see me as a professional athlete. I had to sit with textbooks. There were no easy passes. Now I am in my fifth year at the Russian State University of Physical Culture. I got in on a scholarship [studying for free]. Thanks to the silver medal [in high school], I only had to pass one entrance exam - PE. I picked a [major] of Public Relations. So, I will not be a coach, but a journalist.
Let me offer you a thesis: "Nikita Filatov and his career in sports [covered] by the world media."
Thanks for the idea. I think I will somehow connect my diploma [thesis] with hockey.
Is it true that you may miss the World Junior Championships this year? Last year you were selected at the team captain.
Once again it will depend on my role in Columbus. If I am needed by the club, the team management won't let me go to the Championships. But I have a great desire to join the national team. This is my last chance to win gold with the juniors. We have a very strong team. I have known some guys since we were 10... If I could only tear myself into two halves.
Our junior team was thrashed by the Americans three times not long ago. Do we really have a strong team?
The US has been practicing for a long time. They have the strongest roster. And we treated these games as friendlies. Even junior team coach Vladimir Plushchev told Sovetsky Sport that he would pick about 40 percent of the current roster for the next tournament. So, let's reach conclusions after the final of the world championship. They crossed us out before last year's tournament as well. We lost 5:1 to the Americans having our first shot on goal only on the 23rd minute! But we strongly believed in each other and in the semi-final we almost beat Canada.
Have you met Plushchev?
Yes, he visited the guys when they were getting ready in Novogorsk. We talked about the future without going into details. Vladimir [Plushchev] understand everything himself. He wished me luck in the NHL.
Did you get upset when you were not included in the extended roster for the [national] Olympic team? Kovalchuk played in Salt Lake City when he was 18.
It is laughable to get upset. I played only eight games in the NHL. Why would I make the team at all? I read the list of those who were not invited to Khodynka. It included such names as Alexei Yashin(notes), Maxim Sushinski... I am not the one who should be upset. If I have a fantastic first half of the season, be in contention for the Calder Trophy, then maybe I will get the coaches' attention. Although I haven't talked to Bykov and Zakharkin for over a year, since I left CSKA.
What is your take on your former teammate Sergei Shirokov, who was disqualified by the KHL for a year and is leaving for Vancouver?
I have known Sergei for a long time. But I didn't expect he'd make the willful decision and burn the bridges. You have to respect a person for this, wish him luck. Vancouver is not the weakest team. We have to root for Shirokov to make the first team."
Did you hear that Kirill Kabanov, your possible teammate in the junior national team, may also be disqualified?
Why would he? He doesn't want to sign a contract with Salavat? He is a talented player, a leader in the juniors, a lot of hopes are placed on him... Then let's disqualify everyone who wants to play in the NHL. And what will we do with the national team then? A compromise must be found.
Did you feel it yourself that it is much more difficult to leave for the NHL than it was five years ago?
I vividly remember last summer and how much talk there was around me. But I looked at it calmly. Lawyers studied all legislation and regulations. I didn't even do into the details. I was just getting ready for the NHL season.
After this year, can you say that you were right [to leave]?
Not yet. The coming season will show a lot. But I do not regret anything... I had a dream to play in the best league in the world. I couldn't even imagine that at 18 I would play eight games in the NHL, score a hat trick. I was called up from the farm. We were playing Minnesota at home. Before the game I thought about playing strong defense, not to make any mistakes. And pucks started going into the net in the first shift...
What did you keep as a memento from that hat trick?
I was given the puck, a video of the game. And I also received a congratulatory letter from the NHL, in which Gary Bettman congratulated me with the success.
Are you serious?
Yes, and the letter actually was framed. For a long memory.