Sabres LW Prospects are Few: Should Sabres Target Filatov?


Pegula’s 3 year plan is about to get nasty.

The Buffalo Sabres have a nice crop of big, angry prospects that are nearly pro-ready. Darcy Regier’s philosophy shift from drafting small and speedy to big and nasty is about to affect the lineup in Buffalo, with guys like Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno posturing as likely call-ups next year.  Brayden McNabb just signed onto a 3 year entry level deal, and the punishing 6’4″ defenseman will be looking to join the pro ranks at the AHL level.

So how do these prospects fit into Pegula’s plan to win the Cup within 3 years?

Let’s examine the Sabres’ current depth chart:

SabresDepth2010 11 Sabres LW Prospects are Few: Should Sabres Target Filatov? 300w" sizes="(max-width: 604px) 100vw, 604px" />

From "Yahoo! Sports."

This picture will change on July 1st, when teams go nuts trying to fill out their roster at the beginning of free agency.  Darcy Regier has never been a GM to join the insanity, but with his new “Pegula Bucks,” he may actually be free to land some pretty good players this year.  Until then, this is what we do know: the defensive corps is a young one, but the prospects run deep.  At RW, veterans have pretty much locked up the roster for now.  Center will be thin with the likely UFA departure of Rob Niedermayer and possibly Cody McCormick.  At LW, well, besdies Thomas Vanek, positioning is pretty much up for grabs.  Even Hecht has only one year left on his contract, and he sometimes lines up at center.

Lindy Ruff has done well juggling the lineup to keep the LW position full on gamenights, but is there help on the way?  Here’s a quick look at Portland’s roster at the end of the 2010-11 season:

Players who can be considered NHL ready at the LW position include, well, actually there’s just one – Luke Adam – and he could very well line up at the faceoff dot for the Sabres.

Marcus Foligno is the only other LW in the pipeline that could be utilized in the NHL next year, and he is not yet under contract (the burgeoning star must be signed by June 2nd, or will return to the draft this year).

If the Sabres are to effectively fulfill the three year plan utilizing their prospects, then a fix is needed at this position.  Trades and UFA signings aside, here’s what the future could hold.

Drafting NHL-ready players this year could be the answer – and one of them fits the bill.  Brandon Saad is a 6-1, 208 pounder who many scouts project as being physically ready for the NHL right now.  He could be available when the Sabres pick 16th overall, but could easily be off the board much earlier.

Yesterday, Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal revealed that Nikita Filatov could be dealt from Columbus in exchange for a paltry 3rd round pick.  The former #6 overall pick from 2008, the immensely talented Russian has had difficulty keeping weight on his slim frame, and has had trouble staying healthy enough to crack the Blue Jacket’s lineup.  From the Columbus blog, “The Cannon:”


  • 20 years old
  • 36 GP, 9G, 11A, 20 pts.
  • -2
  • 20 PIM

What we expected:
After another weak start with the Jackets, Filly was sent to Springfield in December. Although it seems like forever, he is only 20 years old, but he continues to struggle to adapt to the North American game.

What we got:
More of the same from Nik. There were shifts where his abundant (and untapped) talent appeared limitless. Then sadly, much more of the time, we saw the level of effort that got him demoted in the first place. Added into the mix, was a late season concussion and we ended up with another disappointing season from Filatov.

What we need to see:
Filly wasn’t signed to a big contract to skate in the “A”. He needs to make sure he’s healthy and in good shape for the start of training camp. He will need to showcase his apparent skills and prove to management that he is capable of playing in the NHL. He is signed through next season, so it will be interesting to see how well he plays while in search of a new contract.

At first glance, Filatov comes across as a player that Regier and Ruff abhor.  Regier likes to avoid Russian players for the risk that they might bolt to the KHL, and Ruff has had his fill of enigmatic players (Kalinin, Afinogenov) that can’t seem to grasp his system consistently enough to keep him from screaming at them.

Still, it’s fair to say Filatov hasn’t had a fair shake yet – at least according to him.  Here’s a look at an interview he did yesterday for a Russian magazine (the translation is rough, but bear with me):

– Last season you started in on “Columbus”, but then were sent to the farm club. Why could not take his chance?
– In the course of the season I did not want to talk about it, came away from such issues. But it’s pretty simple. I started the championship at the base, has played 23 games in a row, and everybody was happy. But the match in the 18 th I got a little groin injury. Thought, quickly recovering from this injury, but the pain did not disappear. Naturally, it affected my game, and I was transferred to the farm club. The club said they would go there for 2-3 weeks, recovered and back to base. But to fully recover from the damage failed, and I stayed in the farm club before the end of the season.

It does need to be said that playing on the Blue Jacket’s fourth line under Ken Hitchcock surely didn’t play to Filatov’s talents very well.  A coaching change to Scott Arniel opened the offense up a bit, but again, Filatov was slowed by the groin injury.  Back to the interview:

– Many would be in your shoes have probably spit on the NHL and returned to Russia. The more so because you have so waiting for CSKA.
– Yes, still waiting, but I’m only 21 years old. And during those three seasons that I spent in North America, I added a skill.Questions about my game, “Columbus” less and less. Now I’m eager to prove that I could still very well to play hockey.


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My gut tells me two things: this is exactly the type of player that the Sabres need to avoid to focus on a Cup run – but heck, for a 3rd rounder, what’s the risk?  In order to think this through, I had a couple conversations yesterday.

First, I tweeted Phil over at “Black & Blue & Gold,” (whom I consider to be one of the premier writers on the Sabres today), and he quickly confirmed my initial reaction.  “I wouldn’t do it, just based on the scouting reports my friends who are CBJ fans gave me.”  As usual, Phil is spot-on here (recall “The Cannon’s” review of his season, and it just adds up).

Then, I had a quick tweet-convo with Kris Baker, who runs the popular resource  He was a little more intrigued than Phil and I, and confirmed my other reaction.  “I’d think long about that – a 3rd is not too costly for Filatov’s ‘potential.'” Obviously Kris is more than aware of Filatov’s struggles, having typed “potential” as he did.  He went on to say “(But) I say yes. Big, tough troops en route (Kassian, Foligno, etc) so go get scoring skill.  No 2nd rounder – but I’d spend a 3rd for a guy who can play now.”  In other words, what’s the risk?

“Filly” has one year left on his entry level contract.  He will make $787,500 for the 2011-12 season, with bonuses that could total $1,350,000 for an overall potential cap hit of $2,195,833.  That’s small change for a player who has at times been considered as one of the best young offensive talents in the game today – and one who could step into an NHL lineup today.  He has both NHL and AHL experience.  He knows that this is his year to prove himself.  Oh, and let’s not forget how players play during their final year in a contract.

Clearly, Regier has his work cut out for him.  The draft, UFA day, and trades will be on the white-board throughout the offseason. There is a lot of work to be done, and some very key decisions to be made.

Bringing in Filatov for a 3rd could be one easy, cheap way to start.

Your move, Darcy.

Go Sabres.




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