Flash in the Panarin: Russian Star to Chicago Blackhawks

While the Chicago Blackhawks are in the midst of yet another deep playoff run, general manager Stan Bowman has been working to improve the team’s roster beyond the current year. The Blackhawks announced on May 1st that Russian star winger Artemi Panarin agreed to a two year contract to join Chicago.

How Good is He?

 

Without trying to give him too much hype, Panarin is an excellent hockey player. The 23 year old has already established himself as one of the best players in the Kontinental Hockey League. This past season, Panarin ranked 4th in the KHL in points with 62 in 54 games. For perspective, In the same amount of games playing for the same team, Ilya Kovalchuk posted 55 in 54 games.

That being said, it’s unreasonable to expect him to come in and be an Ilya Kovalchuk level player in the NHL right away. That would be the absolute best case scenario a couple years down the road. There’s going to be an adjustment period. That he’s in the elite of the elite in terms of point production in the KHL certainly does give the Blackhawks’ front office and fan base a lot of reason for optimism.

As far as accomplishments go, Artemi Panarin is already a highly decorated individual. He was a member of the Russian U20 team that captured gold at the 2011 World Junior Championship. He is currently representing Russia at the 2015 World Championship. This season, Panarin’s SKA St. Petersburg team in the KHL captured the Gagarin Cup as league champions.

While Artemi Panarin has seen his teams have success on a group level, his individual skill set is also highly impressive. He is listed at 5’11”, 159 lbs. This may be a little generous in the height department, but even if it is, he certainly has the frame to add a bit of muscle which could help him adjust to the North American game.

From a scouting report perspective, he possesses an above average one-timer. He has a sneaky quick release, and an innate ability to find the soft spots in defenses and gravitate toward the right goal scoring areas. The velocity and accuracy on his wrist shot isn’t going to set the world on fire. He’s no Alex Semin in that department, but his wrist shot is certainly more than adequate. Some of the stickhandling moves he can pull off on the rush may remind some Blackhawks fans of watching Patrick Kane.

Don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself:

YouTube player

 

Where does he fit in?

(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

It has been widely speculated that this season will be Patrick Sharp’s last as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. If it happens, Sharp will be a casualty of the cruel nature of the salary cap world. Brandon Saad needs a new contract when this season ends, and he will likely command a high level of compensation for his services. Ideally, the Blackhawks will be able to get decent draft picks or young, cost-controlled player assets in return for the 33-year old veteran.

With the likelihood being that the Blackhawks won’t be getting anyone in return for Sharp that could adequately replace his impact on the team, the addition of Artemi Panarin could do wonders in replacing his production. It’s a weak crop of free agents this year, and the Blackhawks probably won’t be able to make a big splash regardless due to the aforementioned cap crunch.

As far as line combinations, that’s not very easy to predict. Coach Joel Quenneville is notorious for shaking up his lines with great frequency, so projecting where he may play is most likely futile. However, stylistically, it would seem like he would mesh very well with Finnish youngster Teuvo Teravainen. Panarin favors the goal-scoring, shoot first side of offensive play while Teravainen’s vision and playmaking ability could make the two an interesting pair in the future.

The Blackhawks are set with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane locked up for what seems like forever. As Patrick Sharp potentially moves on and Marian Hossa continues to age (he has to decline at some point, right?) the need will arise for Chicago to find quality depth forwards with which to supplement their two stars. In my mind, they’ve done a great job in setting up that future support with Brandon Saad, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Hartman, and Artemi Panarin all now in the pipeline.

Expectations for Panarin from some are high, but I’m very excited to see how well he can live up to them.