If you’ve never heard of Artemi Panarin, you are in the majority of NHL fans. No need to worry though, he will be a household name in the very near future.
The native of Korkino, Russia has played in the KHL since he was just 17-years old. After his seventh season, Panarin had become a superstar of the league, while still at the ripe age of 23. He led a very talented SKA St. Petersburg team to the Gagarin Cup, the KHL championship, and was rewarded by multiple offers from NHL teams.
Eventually, he decided to sign with the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Panarin has played seven KHL seasons, but only began to make his mark over the past two years as a member of SKA St. Petersburg. He’s played for three KHL teams in his career, as well as representing Russia in the World Junior Championships and the World Championships. He had a strong tournament in the WJC, scoring three goals and five points in seven games, including the game-winning goal in the gold medal game to secure Russia’s first gold in eight years.
He played in his first World Championships this year with great success, ranking 12th in the tournament in points, with 10 in 10 games. The Russians went all the way to the gold medal game, but came up short against Canada. Panarin even received a Top 3 Player On His Team award for his efforts.
Back to the KHL, where Panarin was one of the best players in the entire league this past season. He finished the year ranked fifth in points, with 62 in 54 games. Those numbers gave him the third highest points-per-game rate in the entire league, at 1.15 – all of this while playing just 15:59 a game. Imagine what his production could have been with 20 minutes a game! With all the noise that Steve Moses received when he signed with the Predators, it is amazing how little Panarin was talked about after signing with the Blackhawks.
The 23-year old outscored Ilya Kovalchuk, in both goals and points, in the same amount of games. In the playoffs, Panarin’s outstanding year continued. He was third in points, with 20 in 20 games, just one point back of the leader. Panarin’s terrific offensive talents were a valuable part of SKA St. Petersburg’s run to a Gagarin Cup championship.
What Does He Bring To The Table?
So, what sets Panarin’s game apart from those around him? To begin with, he’s received early comparisons to the style of his new teammate, Patrick Kane. He’s a highly skilled player with excellent hands that often make him the most dynamic player on the ice. He’s a gifted playmaker, as well as a smart goal scorer. He’s able to create time and space on the ice to find teammates in scoring areas. Panarin also has a nose for the net, often finding himself in the right place at the right time.
His skating is also good, in the sense that he can blow by opponents, but he could use some extra lower-body strength to become more solid with the puck. Panarin is, likely generously, listed at 5 feet 11 inches and 170 pounds, so he definitely won’t be the biggest guy on the ice. There’s no telling what the adjustment will be like into the North-American game. It will be faster, stronger, and definitely more of a two-way game than he may be accustomed to. Working on his defensive game will likely be the biggest need for Panarin, especially playing on a Blackhawks team that has everyone committed to an all-around game.
What Can We Expect Down The Road?
Without a doubt, Panarin is an extremely talented player with huge potential. What we can expect from his rookie year is not very clear though. Transitioning to North America for the first time in his life will likely hinder his game a little bit at first. Having to focus more on the defensive side of the game will absolutely have an impact on his overall game and his production. But, if Panarin is willing to give in to the Blackhawks style, he could turn into a gem within a couple of years.
There’s certainly huge offensive upside in him, and it could be brought out by some amazing teammates. On a weak left side of the depth chart, there is a huge opportunity for Panarin to jump straight into the first line. With Teravainen likely to start on the second line, it’s likely that Panarin will be given a shot on the first. That would mean playing with Jonathan Toews, an elite player in the NHL and possibly the best leader in the game. On the right-wing would be either Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa – not a bad pair to choose from.
With Panarin’s abilities, if he is able to play a responsible game, he could turn into a dark horse in the Calder Trophy race. Assuming he is able to transition seamlessly into the Blackhawks game, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to predict a 60-point season for Panarin. If he begins to see regular power-play time, he can easily become a top contender with McDavid and Eichel. That’s why it’s shocking that Panarin has received the little attention he has. For the reigning Stanley Cup champs to sign a new first-line winger and no one talk about it is quite absurd. We’ve seen Stan Bowman pick out diamonds in the rough before, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Panarin becomes yet another.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at email@example.com or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.