Filatov on Spezza's right wing

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:50 PM ET

OTTAWA - Nikita Filatov was unable to pick up a goal in the exhibitions, but that hasn’t stopped him from scoring a prime spot in the Senators lineup.

Right now, it looks very much like he’s going to be Jason Spezza’s right winger on the first line.

While coach Paul MacLean has opted thus far to play rookie Mika Zibanejad with Daniel Alfredsson, the captain’s old spot alongside Spezza and Milan Michalek is occupied by Filatov, the 21-year-old Russian with exceptional talents.

In six pre-season games, the former sixth overall draft pick led the team in shots on goal with 15 and had three assists, but he was held goal-less.

“We felt that if Nikita is going to play on our team, it’s going to be in the Top 6,” said MacLean. “He has the skill level to be a Top 6 forward in this league, so we’re giving him that opportunity. I don’t think he’s played his way out of that opportunity at this point.”

He still needs to score, said GM Bryan Murray, who took an easy gamble when he dealt a third round pick for Filatov in the off-season.

“He didn’t finish, which kind of surprised me a little bit,” Murray said when asked about Filatov’s camp. “I thought he’d score a couple of goals on the chances he had, but he made some very creative plays. I thought he was very aware on the ice. Again, it comes down to will he compete every night at the NHL level, so that he’s allowed to continue to show his ability with the puck.

“But he’s very much an NHL skater, very much has the hands and head to play in the league. It’s just a matter of watching him as we go forward here, and can he contribute. He has to get offensive points to be a contributor here.”

Filatov says he feels comfortable in Ottawa, where there are a lot of young players like himself and the veterans are “really easygoing and helping a lot.” After a tumultuous time in Columbus, he says hockey is fun again.

As for his inability to score in the pre-season, he shrugs and mentions last year, when he has four goals in the pre-season but wound up with none in 23 games for the Blue Jackets.

“It’s not a huge problem,” said Filatov. “Still lots of time before the first game. I have to kind of get more into it, shoot more in practice.

“There are lots of guys who didn’t score in pre-season, and they are way bigger players than me. I don’t really think it’s a huge problem. I think I work pretty hard out there. A couple of times I helped partners to score, and it’s more about that.”

Filatov is relishing the opportunity with Spezza, but also enjoyed playing on a gritty line with Zack Smith and Chris Neil.

“So many good players here. All the players from Top 6 or Top 9, some of them can score, they can be offensive,” he said. “I’ve been playing a few shifts with Neiler and Smitty and we had lots of chances. It was lots of fun out there. Some games you need more guys like Smitty and Neiler, especially for me.

“Anyway playing with Spetz is a big pleasure and lots of fun out there. It’s more what I would like of course, because he’s offensively a really talented guy and he’s just creating so much out there.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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