After winning the Gagarin Cup last year with SKA St. Petersburg, Artemi Panarin moved to the NHL, where he is now playing first line hockey in one of the top teams in the league. In this translated interview, originally appearing on the popular Russian website SovSport.ru, Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin talked about how other Russian players helped him adapting to the NHL, chemistry with Kane, and his progress as a player.
* For the original SovSport.ru article by Leonid Varshavsky, click here.
– In the latest couple of years you had quite a progress. How could you achieve that?
– I have to thank Viktor Tikhonov, he helped me a lot even when we were playing for SKA. And I also had Ilya Kovalchuk. I followed these players and I improved thanks to them. I was very happy to be playing in the same team with such great forwards. Just as I’m happy now to be playing with Kane, Toews, and Hossa. They are also allowing me to progress. Look how great is playing Kane right now, he’s the goal and pointscorer leader of the whole league. I have to work hard to get to his level.
– What did Ilya Kovalchuk told you about the NHL?
– “There’s nothing to be scared of, Tema.” He told me to be myself, not to change my game and not to lose confidence. Play the way I can. That’s all.
– Artem Anisimov is doing a great job complementing you and Kane. What is his secret?
– Well, he has such a good contract (laughs). I think he understands very well what kind of hockey I and Patrick want to play. He helps us a lot. I don’t think it’s just down to his size, his task isn’t just to hit people around. He could be even smaller, just to skate faster (laughs). With his size he can be very good at screening the goalie, but he doesn’t always want to fight in the slot.
– Why Chicago underwent the Russian invasion exactly this summer?
– Our contracts with SKA run out. Viktor wanted to get here even earlier. I wasn’t thinking about it before, I didn’t consider myself ready to the NHL. But I was 23, 24 now. We also won the Gagarin Cup. I understood that it was the right time to go to the NHL. It was the right time to make a step forward.
– Now the whole world knows who is Artemi Panarin. Do you feel more pressure?
– I remember when I was 18 or 19 and no one in Russia knew about me. Now I’m the right person in the right moment.
– Why do you wear the #72?
– I simply like how it looks.
– What did you learn in your first months in Chicago?
– My height didn’t grow, therefore I haven’t learned any supernatural method here (laughs). Now I’m paying more attention to little things like work with the stick. Generally speaking, there was a period where I was a little lost. And maybe now, after a small decline, a big boost is ahead of me.
– What do you do to get better?
– I try to eat more (laughs). I try to think the correct way. I try to adjust myself and my game. It’s hard to find some time to practice in Chicago, but I need to be more and more useful to my team.
– What suggestions do you get from your coaches and teammates?
– When I was in a goal drought, my teammates would approach me and tell: “Relax and don’t think about that.” I understood that, but it was hard anyway. It’s very hard to keep your cool. I was worried, but the advice was helpful.
– What did you have to adapt more in the NHL?
– When I started playing here I had a lot of questions in my mind. First of all about speed. Then I also noticed that here players play stronger on the stick. At first it was hard because I couldn’t receive passes, but now my reaction became better.
– What is the difference between playing with Kane and Toews?
– I like playing with anyone. I’m going to play with any player my coaches will indicate. Of course when I play with Kane we show more chemistry. But on the other hand I played much more with him, than with Toews.
– It looks like you and Kane have a lot of chemistry.
– We are on the same wavelength. He can even understand my English. I’m very surprised. He always finds the right words so that I can understand him.
– What do you like more than everything about Chicago?
– Here there is more sun than in St. Petersburg (laughs).
– Recently Sergei Fedorov has been inducted to the Hall of Fame. Was he your childhood idol?
– When I was a kid I didn’t even know all the players. The NHL wasn’t a goal for me. I couldn’t even dream about that. When I was a bit older, then I started paying attention to players. And of course Fedorov always impressed me.
– Can you say the same about Alexander Ovechkin? Do you know him?
– Yes, we got to know each other playing for the national team. It’s great that we have such a great player playing for Russia.
– Soon Ovechkin will become the top Russian NHL goalscorer of all times. Will you catch him up?
– To get to that I have to play for long time like Jagr (laughs).
[Related: Money Not A Factor For Artemi Panarin]
Alessandro Seren Rosso can be reached on Twitter @AlexSerenRosso