Getting to Know Artem Anisimov

The Chicago Blackhawks sent shockwaves through the hockey world when they dealt soon-to-be restricted free agent winger Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a blockbuster seven player deal.

The key pieces that the Blackhawks received in return were center Artem Anisimov and winger prospect Marko Dano. I’ll be doing pieces profiling both of the former Blue Jackets, breaking down their playing styles, and speculating on where they may fit in on their new team in Chicago. First off is Anismov, the large Russian center who is sure to make an interesting addition to the Blackhawks’ forward group.

Artem the Blueshirt

Anisimov is a highly intriguing player. Standing 6’4″ tall and weighing in at 201 lbs, the Russian center has the size to be a dominant power forward. Anisimov was the 2nd round pick of the New York Rangers in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, going 54th overall.

Anisimov made his NHL debut in 2008-2009, but he played just the one game in that season. In 2009-2010, Anisimov established himself as a full time NHL player on the Rangers’ roster. Anisimov showed great promise in his rookie campaign. He proved to be a responsible player in all three zones. He also produced 12 goals and 16 assists, good for 28 points, which is a respectable number given his role as a depth forward on that team. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game that season was the +3.2% Corsi Relative he was good for, proving him to be a force in terms of driving play.

In 2010-2011, Anisimov’s development took the next logical step. He established himself as a legitimate top nine forward for the Rangers that season, splitting time between the third and second lines. His 18 goals, 26 assists, and 44 points that year proved him to be a reliable option as a second line center. He was generating about 2.5 shots on goal per game on his own, and his +1.6% Corsi Relative meant that he had adjusted nicely to facing tougher competition, and was still coming faring very well in possession.

Heading into 2011-2012, expectations were high for the Russian, who was just 23 years of age at the time. In his first two full seasons, Anisimov had established himself as an above average third line center, and then as a slightly above average second line center. His 23 year old campaign would be crucial in deciding whether he would take the next step and become a legitimate first line option or plateau as a serviceable second liner.

Unfortunately for Anisimov, he was not able to rise to this challenge. His shots on goal per game dipped drastically, and his points per game rate fell to .46 that season, down from .54 the season prior. His Corsi Relative also fell from the +1.6% the year before to an even 0.0% in 2011-2012. Derek Stepan’s breakout season that year (.62 points per game) meant that the American had firmly entrenched himself ahead of the Russian on the Rangers’ future depth chart at center.

Following the 2011-2012 season, the Rangers dealt Anisimov to the Blue Jackets as part of the monster deal to bring Rick Nash to the Big Apple. It was thought that this may be best for Anisimov’s development, as despite the Rangers’ rousing success in 2011-2012, Anisimov had taken a clear step back at the individual level.

Artem the Blue Jacket

With Columbus, Anisimov occupied a middle six center spot just as he had in New York. In 2013’s lockout-shortened season, Anisimov was good for a .51 points per game clip, but was also a -1.5% Corsi Relative player. Of the six full seasons Anisimov has played to this point, 2013 was the only one in which his Corsi Relative was below zero. That’s certainly one of the positive signs for his future in Chicago.

Anisimov played two more seasons in Columbus before the recent trade, compiling point per game clips of .48 and .52 in each of those. Given all of this, the numbers seem to suggest that Anisimov has settled in nicely as roughly an average second line center. In these days with scoring at unusually low levels around the league, it’s rare to see third liners with the offensive pedigree that Anisimov possesses. He also seems to be too good in terms of possession to stick on a third line, given that he has improved his team’s possession metrics as a top six forward. He’s done so on excellent playoff caliber teams and on teams that finished near the bottom of the standings.

Artem the Blackhawk

The Blackhawks are a team that has been searching desperately for a long term answer to their second line center problem for quite some time now. With Anisimov now in the fold, I think they’ve finally found their guy. They had to part with Saad to do it, but given the circumstances it may ultimately be the best move for both parties. It’s also highly important to keep in mind that this wasn’t a one-for-one swap. What came back to Chicago with Anisimov was a lot more valuable than what went back to Columbus with Saad. You’ll hear more on that from me soon.

Regardless, one can’t help but speculate on where Anisimov will slide in on the Blackhawks’ depth chart. At this point in time, it seems to be a given that he will assume the second line center role. The loss of Saad creates a gaping hole on the left side of Chicago’s first line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, but Anisimov as Patrick Kane’s center could be a glove-like fit for the Blackhawks. Anisimov’s combination of two-way reliability and offensive prowess is a combination that Kane hasn’t had in any of his recent centers.

Additionally, the recent signings of fellow Russians Artemi Panarin and Viktor Tikohnov  could make for some intriguing possibilities. It’s unlikely that the Blackhawks don’t utilize Anisimov with Kane, but one of his two fellow Russians could be the answer for the left side of this new-look second line for the Blackhawks. A second line of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane would be the best the Blackhawks have iced in quite some time, and certainly one of the three or so best in the entire league.

It came out shortly after the completion of the trade that Anisimov was a player that Stan Bowman had been coveting for quite some time, and it’s easy to see why. The Blackhawks made quite the commitment to Anisimov with his new long term extension that will kick in next summer. It’s an investment that should pay dividends as Chicago will finally be able to put an end to the revolving door of miscast second line centers behind their captain.

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Let me know in the comments what you think about Anisimov as the Blackhawks’ new second line center, and stay tuned for my profile on the other main piece coming back to the Blackhawks in the Saad deal, Marko Dano. He’s a highly intriguing prospect to bring into the fold and I have a lot of thoughts on his future in the Second City. Thanks for reading.