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Chatting with Nikita Filatov about leaving for KHL, struggles in Ottawa and ‘stupid question’ about NHL future

Nikita Filatov arrived in Russia this afternoon opting to go to the KHL instead of remaining with the Ottawa Senators organization until at least the end of the season. It was a bit of a familiar scene as Filatov was also loaned to the KHL two years ago, by the Columbus Blue Jackets then.

After the trade to the Ottawa Senators over the summer, Filatov was ready to jump start his career with the team that was rebuilding. Is there a better place for a young forward?  But it still didn't work out for the former first round pick. What went wrong this time, and is there another, maybe the final, chance for Filatov to make it in the NHL?

Filatov kept quiet yesterday, choosing not to speak on the record about the new-old chapter of heading back to the KHL. But Sovetsky Sport's Pavel Lysenkov caught up with him when Filatov was in London this morning waiting for a connecting flight to Moscow. Here's their chat:

Why did you make this decision to come back to the KHL?

"Murray said that he cannot keep me on the bench after the coach wasn't playing me for five games straight. And he suggested I chose between the farm team and the KHL. Of course I said that I would go to Russia."

Bryan Murray stated that you were chasing money.

"The financial aspect is also very important. It is stupid to argue. Everyone clearly understands the difference between salaries in the farm team and the KHL and the NHL. If you compare, I was making 12 times less playing for Binghamton than in Ottawa. But this is my first contract in the NHL. An automatic two-way deal. So there was no choice."

Why couldn't you get going in Ottawa playing even on the first line?

"If you had watched all of my games you wouldn't have said that. 'There were no goals' and 'couldn't get the game going' are different things. In principle [Ottawa] was happy with me. Including coach MacLean. When I was on the ice I was creating scoring opportunities."

You haven't score a goal in the NHL since 2009.

"In 5 of my 9 games I had less than six minutes of ice time. It's difficult to score a goal like that."

Maybe MacLean was prejudiced?

"No, there was a good relationship with both the coach and the general manager. I can't complain. I can only blame myself."

How did the opportunity with CSKA come up?

"CSKA General Manager Sergei Nemchinov told me that CSKA was waiting for me. That everyone would be happy if I came back. I am going there on loan until the end of the season. And during the summer I will decide whether to stay in Russia or to come back to Ottawa.

"When Murray called me to his office and offered the KHL option I agreed to it right away. I am thankful to the Senators that they met me in the middle."

Why go back to the NHL? What's the point?

"What kind of a stupid question is that? The point is that the best league in the world is still there. I will be only 22 this summer. And I don't see any reasons to say that I have no chances to break through in the NHL. Everyone's career goes differently. Not always things come easy."

Maybe it was an uncomfortable question. But it seems that you are banging your head against the wall trying to conquer the NHL.

"If I can't make it then there are reasons. Objective or not. I need to work a lot. I need to get better. I hope CSKA will help me with that."

When you came from Columbus you said that you got better playing defense. How did Ottawa help you in six months?

"It didn't really. Apart from the fact that I gained a lot of confidence playing for the farm. Because I spent little time in the NHL this time."

***

CSKA General Manager Sergei Nemchinov did not want to comment on Filatov's transfer. The club announced they would meet with the player in the coming days to negotiate a contract. There is talk that some other teams are also showing interest. But Filatov is expected to dress up for CSKA on December 20.

Filatov became the second young Russian who went back to the KHL instead of playing in the minors. Phoenix Coyotes prospect Viktor Tikhonov left two month ago. On loan as well.

One has to wonder, despite the two players' upside in skill, if they will indeed come back to the NHL. Jaromir Jagr played in the KHL and is now still showing his class in the NHL after years of absence. But Jagr is Jagr. Jiri Hudler's return last year was less than stellar, but he is picking it up this season. For Filatov this is the second trip to the KHL in his short NHL career. The odds that he will make a triumphant return on his third attempt are likely very small.

Nikolai Zherdev is another player who will try to make an NHL comeback next year. And also for the third time. But his case is different nevertheless as NHL teams know exactly what to expect from him.

As for Filatov and Tikhonov? Who knows?

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