The New York Rangers should be ecstatic with the way winger Artemi Panarin has played so far this season. He was brought in as a dynamic offensive player but he has been even better than expected.
This isn’t the first time New York has made a move to acquire a star winger. They signed Marian Gaborik in free agency in 2009. While he was excellent during the regular season, he failed to have the same success in the postseason in his tenure with the Blueshirts.
The Rangers also made a trade to acquire star winger Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012. Like Gaborik, for the most part he was excellent in the regular season but when the playoffs came around his ability to produce offensively disappeared.
It remains unclear whether the rest of this season will be played or if the Rangers will make it to the postseason if the season does resume. One thing that is clear, is the team expect much better postseason play from Panarin than they got from Nash or Gaborik.
The Rangers signed Gaborik to a five-year, $37.5 million deal in the 2009 offseason with the hopes that he would lift them from a good team to a Cup contender. He had played just 17 games with the Minnesota Wild in the 2008-09 season but had 42 goals and 41 assists in 77 games in the 2007-08 season. He had also played well in the postseason with Minnesota. He had 12 goals and 10 assists in 29 games.
He lived up to the Rangers’ high expectations for him in 2009-10, his first season with the team, finishing with 42 goals and 44 assists in 76 games. He was by far their best skater that season, but they fell short of the playoffs by one point after a heartbreaking shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the final game of the season.
The following season, Gaborik was hampered by injuries and had just 22 goals and 26 assists in 62 games, but got his chance to play in the postseason with New York. The Rangers played the Washington Capitals in the first round and were severely overmatched. They managed to win one game but lost the series in five. Gaborik didn’t play poorly but failed to make much of a difference, finishing with one goal and one assist in the series.
The 2011-12 season was New York’s best in a long time and Gaborik was a huge part of it. He finished with 41 goals and 35 assists, leading the Rangers to the best record in the Eastern Conference. He had a few clutch plays in the postseason, including a crucial goal in triple overtime in Game 3 of the second round against the Capitals.
He didn’t use his lethal wrist shot nearly as often as he had in the regular season and because of that, he wasn’t nearly as effective as he had been in the regular season. He finished with five goals and six assists in 20 games before the New Jersey Devils eliminated the Blueshirts in the Eastern Conference Final. After the season ended, it was announced that Gaborik had played with a torn labrum in his shoulder and needed surgery in the offseason.
The injury helped explain some of Gaborik’s struggles but it was still a disappointing postseason for the star winger. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets the following season.
During the 2012 offseason, the Rangers traded Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick in exchange for Nash. They traded Gaborik soon after and hoped Nash would be the player to elevate New York’s play in the postseason.
Nash was an established star, who was excellent defensively and had already led the NHL in goals in the 2003-04 season. Still, he lacked playoff experience and had never won a playoff game when the Rangers traded for him.
Nash was everything the Blueshirts could have hoped for in the regular season. He scored 42 goals in the 2014-15 season with the team and produced offensively every season. He was also fantastic defensively. He excelled on the penalty kill and the power play.
Unfortunately for Nash and the Rangers, that success did not continue in the postseason. He went from the team’s best offensive threat to one of the last players they hoped would have the puck on his stick with a scoring opportunity.
In the 2014 postseason, Nash finished with three goals and seven assists despite leading the NHL in shots during the postseason. He failed to score in three of New York’s four postseason series, tallying all three of his goals against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. He was held without a point in five games against the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.
The following postseason, he had a bit more success, finishing with 5 goals and 9 assists in 19 games before the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. Once again he led the NHL in postseason shots but struggled to score.
In total, Nash played in five postseasons with New York. He finished with 14 goals and 24 assists in 73 games. He was excellent defensively but could not deliver offensively in the postseason.
How Panarin Can Avoid the Same Fate
Panarin has been a dominant force this season. He has 32 goals and 63 assists in 69 games and is plus-36. He has also played well in the postseason thus far in his career. In 27 games with the Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks, he has 9 goals and 17 assists, including an overtime goal against the Capitals in the first round of the 2018 postseason.
In order to avoid playoff woes, I think it’s important to examine why Gaborik and Nash struggled.
In part, I think injuries played a role in the struggles of both Gaborik and Nash. Gaborik’s shoulder injury hindered his play, especially his shot. He regained his form when he was healthy and went on to score 14 goals in 26 games with the Kings and helped them defeat the Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Nash suffered multiple concussions during his time with the Rangers and often struggled to regain his form after returning. This happened in a few of his regular seasons in New York and may have played a role in his playoff woes during those postseasons.
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For Panarin, avoiding injuries may be easier said than done but he’s been durable so far in his career. He has only missed seven games in his first five seasons in the NHL and has shown he knows how to protect himself and avoid big hits.
A big part of the problem for both Gaborik and Nash was that opponents were able to focus on shutting them down since the Rangers didn’t have another line or star that could produce offensively the way they could. They were almost always matched up against the best defense pair on opposing teams.
Panarin is set up for success in part because the Rangers have two top lines and another star player. Mika Zibanejad had been fantastic as well and head coach David Quinn’s decision to split them up on different lines prevents opponents from playing their top defense pair against both players at the same time.
What Makes Panarin Different
I believe Panarin will have much more postseason success with the Rangers than either Gaborik or Nash had. Playing on a different line than Zibanejad will help both players get better matchups against opponents.
Another key skill that separates Panarin from the team’s previous star wingers is he is a better playmaker. Gaborik and Nash were both excellent scorers but neither one made the players around them better in the same way that Panarin does. His vision is outstanding.
Panarin has already proven he can play at a high level in the postseason and so far he has shown no sign of wilting under the bright lights of New York. In fact he’s thrived under them. That bodes well for him if the Rangers can make it to the playoffs. I think he will play even better in the postseason than the regular season because he is at his best when the pressure is at its peak.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.