Rangers Need Panarin to Step Up Or They’ll Be Done

Artemi Panarin hasn’t been good enough in the playoffs. The New York Rangers are down three games to one and much of that falls on his shoulders. He’s their best forward and oftentimes their best player who’s just around a point per game (playoff-wise) but that’s not going to cut it. In some playoff games, he’s been non-existent. It’s not that he needs to get three or four points a game every night, he needs to be a difference-maker, and he hasn’t done that enough. He’s been a factor in two of the four games thus far but that’s not good enough this time of year.

Artemi Panarin New York Rangers
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Yes, Igor Shesterkin has struggled during the 2021-22 playoffs, and some other players haven’t stepped up as they did over the course of the season. However, Panarin is the offensive leader of the squad. In the first four games of the first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he hasn’t shown that leadership, while Sidney Crosby, who I believe is still the Penguins’ best player, has been dominant.

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That’s been one of the biggest differences in the first-round matchup and a big reason why the Blueshirts are on the brink of elimination. Nobody said playoff hockey is easy. The best players need to be the best players and make everyone else around them better. If the Rangers are going to advance deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, now or any time, the Breadman needs to step up in the biggest moments, ala Mark Messier.

Panarin’s Playoff Numbers

Over the course of Panarin’s playoff career, he has 33 points in 34 playoff games with a minus-10. During his time with the Rangers, he has three goals and four assists in seven playoff games and is minus-4. These are pretty good numbers, aside from the minuses, but they don’t equal his talent. They don’t scream playoff leadership and success.

Panarin’s regular-season numbers are better which is to be expected but there comes a time when a team’s offensive leader needs to step up and score at a high click while also making their presence felt through an entire series and beyond if they want to hoist The Cup.

Crosby and Malkin

As a comparison, Crosby has 200 points in 178 career playoff games and he’s plus-17. If you look at Crosby’s stats from their 2008-09 Stanley Cup championship run, he had 15 goals and 16 assists in 24 games and was plus-14. There weren’t many games if any during that run that he wasn’t noticeable on the ice. Or, you could look at Evgeni Malkins’ stats during that run. He had 13 goals and 22 assists and was plus-3. Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Yes, the three of them are different players and contribute in different ways at times, however, they all have top-level offensive talent and are paid to put up numbers. In the four games thus far in the series with the Rangers, Crosby has nine points and is plus-1, while Malkin hasn’t been as good offensively. He has three points in the series and is also plus-1. So, Panarin is in the middle, which is average and not good enough for a player like him.

What Panarin Needs to Do

If the Rangers want any shot of getting back into this series and at making deep playoff runs in the future, Panarin needs to be better. Nobody’s asking him to score more than Crosby and Malkin combined. He needs to consistently create offense and not disappear for large stretches of playoff games. He doesn’t need to have Wayne Gretzky-type playoff stats, but he does need to be the Rangers’ best offensive player.

Related: Rangers: 3 Keys to Staving Off Elimination vs. Penguins

Yes, they have other weapons, and they need to play well too, but Panarin has been their leading scorer since he arrived and even a Hart Trophy (Regular Season MVP) candidate. If he can have a Conn Smythe-like playoff run then the Rangers are in business. He doesn’t need to put up Wayne Gretzky-type numbers. Gretzky averaged almost two points per playoff game in his phenomenal career. He simply needs to be more involved for a whole series and bare down defensively. He can build on that throughout each round and a few four-point nights wouldn’t hurt while scoring timely goals in clutch situations.

I hope certainly hope Panarin takes the next step tonight and figures out how to take over a series like I know he’s capable of.

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