Artemi Panarin: Rookie on the Rise

Russian Import

Artemi Panarin was one of the most hotly anticipated arrivals to begin the season. Everyone knew Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid were going to be good, but Panarin had managed to fly under the radar a bit, because of his size. Sure, everyone that saw him play in the KHL, or watched highlights on youtube could see that he was some kind of special, but could lightning strike twice in Chicago? After all, the Blackhawks already had Patrick Kane, the player that drew the most comparisons for Panarin. Could one team really have two players of that caliber?

A month into the season, the Blackhawks and their fans can attest that Panarin is not only as talented as he was billed to be, but he has also managed to play exceptionally well with every player that he has lined up with. In spite of a significant language barrier, it would seem that the language of hockey is universal; In the Blackhawks locker room, everyone is fluent.

In the Kontinental Hockey League, Panarin was known as the Russian Patrick Kane, and the world is beginning to see why that comparison was drawn. Panarin has excellent stick handling abilities that can leave even the best defenders watching as though he has pulled off the world’s greatest magic trick.

Even more astounding, is that the young forward has absolutely no qualms about taking the battles to the boards, even though he is often out-sized by considerable amounts. Panarin is slippery and quick, much like Kane, but he is also fearless. For him, the puck is gold, and he will go to any lengths to track it, take it, and find a way to get it to the back of the net. He can drift between defenders like Jonathan Toews, pick a pocket like Marian Hossa and dangle the puck like it’s on a string, just like Kane.

Pond Hockey to the NHL

For Panarin, Hockey has been a way of life for most of his twenty-three years. Thanks in part to his grandfather, who first put a five-year-old Artemi on the ice in a pair of rented figure skates. At the time, Panarin did not want anything to do with it.

“I had no choice,” Panarin said. “I screamed. I cried. I said I didn’t want to skate — that I wouldn’t do it, and there was no reason for me to be there. But my grandfather kept working with me, and gradually I learned how to skate.”

As he grew, he wore his grandfather’s skates over his shoes, which were still much too large. They were the only skates available to him as he progressed on a small outdoor rink in Korinko, Russia. Panarin would eventually head to a sports boarding school in Chelyabinsk, getting up at five a.m. each morning to skate. When asked about the journey at such a young age, Panarin said, “it was necessary.”

(translated from an interview with The Championat)

At twenty-three years old, that may seem like ancient history, but it was a big part of the journey that eventually led him to the Kontinental Hockey League where he quickly made a name for himself. In 2008, at seventeen years old he joined the KHL where he remained until last season, capping off his career with a championship for SKA St. Petersburg. He contributed five goals and 15 assists in the playoffs and was a +9. Throughout the regular season, Panarin was the scoring leader for SKA St. Petersburg with 62 points (26G, 36A) ahead of former NHL standout Ilya Kovalchuk. Artemi Panarin finished his KHL career with 263 regular season games, registering 183 points.

Stats aside, Panarin’s smaller stature led him to go un-drafted, but NHL scouts still took notice. A number of teams had shown interest in the shifty forward, hoping to put lightning in a bottle and bring him to the NHL; However, the draw of playing with Patrick Kane and the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks was more than any other team could offer. It certainly didn’t hurt that the Hawks were so sure of his skill set, that they were willing to allow him an out clause, should he not make the NHL team right away. Had it happened, Panarin could have returned to the KHL immediately. Stan Bowman, and his team of scouts were already 100% certain that Panarin could translate his game to the NHL.

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Thirteen games into Panarin’s NHL career, he has already notched 2 goals and 9 assists, and is just two minutes shy of Toews and Kane in terms of his time on the ice. These stats would indicate that not only has his game translated fairly seamlessly from the KHL, but he has earned the faith of coach Joel Quenneville, who is not always that easy to impress.

Panarin’s star is on the rise, and the Blackhawks are not the only ones that have taken notice. Without a doubt, there will be some growing pains for Panarin as he adjusts to life in America, a new language and the NHL. In a little over a month, it’s become pretty clear that Artemi Panarin has all the tools to succeed, and become a long-term member of the Blackhawks family.

Meanwhile, the Hawks rabid fan base has already fallen for the Russian forward that coach Q has dubbed ‘The Breadman’.