The Sudbury Wolves are holding their breath.
The Ontario Hockey League team made Russian forward Nikita Filatov the first overall pick in the 2008 Canadian Hockey League import draft this past summer and thought there was a very good chance the dynamic sixth overall pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft wouldn't make the Columbus Blue Jackets' opening-day roster and that he would be an impact player at the junior level.
And the Wolves are probably right on all those counts, fat lot of good it does them at this particular moment.
Columbus won't finalize its official 23-man roster until tomorrow, but it certainly looks as though Filatov is not going to be on it. Filatov suffered a leg injury and missed the early part of training camp, so he's a little behind right now, but he was brilliant – scoring one goal in regulation time and one in a shootout – in the Jackets' pre-season game in Toronto on Sunday.
Perfect. Exactly how the Wolves' envisioned things unfolding.
But here's the hitch. While Filatov has been fully cleared and released from his obligations in Russia to play professional hockey in North America – for the Blue Jackets or their AHL affiliate in Syracuse – the transfer paperwork required for him to play junior hockey in the CHL has not yet been processed by the Russians. And no one seems to know exactly when, or if, that may happen.
The best case scenario is a week or two; the worst case is it could get hung up in the no-man's land of international relations. The Wolves, the OHL, Filatov's representation at Newport Sports Management and Hockey Canada are in the midst of doing the necessary paperwork to get the release but there's a process that has to be followed and if the Russians want to stretch this out, they can.
The bottom line is that even if the Blue Jackets decided they wanted to assign Filatov to Sudbury for the balance of the season, they couldn't do it. Not right now.
Wolves' GM-head coach Mike Foligno would love to add a player of Filatov's stature. Watching him snipe a goal in full flight against the Maple Leafs, knowing what he has accomplished at the international level for Russia, suggests Filatov would be a dominant, franchise-type player for the young Wolves, who are off to an impressive 3-0-1 start after just four games.
As for the Blue Jackets, not having the option to send him to junior hockey is not necessarily a bad thing for them.
In fact, even if Filatov were currently eligible to go to Sudbury, the Blue Jackets wouldn't make that commitment at this time. They want him in Syracuse for now.
By assigning him to the AHL, the Blue Jackets could recall him at any time they see fit, in a day, a week, a month, whenever… Based on how he finished training camp, this kid would appear to be close to being able to play for the Jackets. An assignment in Syracuse offers greater flexibility and a higher level of play than junior. Assignment to the Wolves, however, would mean he has to finish out the season in the OHL and could not be recalled to the NHL except under emergency conditions.
If Sudbury were a legitimate option right now – that is, if the Russian transfer paperwork with the CHL was completed and in hand – the Blue Jackets could choose to send him to the Wolves at any time. In other words, they could put him in Syracuse for now and if they thought it was in his best interest to move him down to Sudbury later in the season, they could do that.
And they may well do that – if the transfer from Russia is granted.
In the meantime, it looks like Syracuse is where Filatov will start his season. After that, who knows? It depends on how he plays, what the Blue Jackets' needs are and what's in the best development interests of the young man. And the Wolves can only wait to see if they're going to get a player who could be one of the most dynamic talents in all of junior hockey.
Update: Filatov was assigned to the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday.