There’s no rest for the wicked.
Only a week removed from winning the 2015 Stanley Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks, and their fans, are asking, “what’s next?”
First on the list, is the NHL Entry Draft. The Blackhawks don’t have a pick in the first round of this year’s draft, but nonetheless, Stan Bowman has a chance to bolster the teams’ prospect pool.
Bowman hasn’t been waiting until the draft to do this, however.
Take yourselves back to the beginning of May, before the Blackhawks embarked on their Cup run, even before the Blackhawks knew if they would land a Central Division playoff spot, or fall to a Western Conference Wild Card position.
The Blackhawks signed Russian forward Artemi Panarin to a two-year contract on May 1st. To the casual observer, it wouldn’t seem like much. However, one glance of a Blackhawks’ twitter feed, or a quick Google search, is enough to get a Blackhawks fan very, very excited.
Panarin was fresh off a breakout season in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he finished fourth in regular-season scoring with 62 points in 54 games. For reference, that’s 7 points more than Ilya Kovalchuk, who played on the same SKA Moscow team as Paranin.
Panarin, and SKA, weren’t done there. The 23-year old notched 20 points in 20 playoff games, as the team captured the Gagarin Cup Championship. Just a few weeks later, he led this little tournament, called the IIHF World Hockey Championship, in scoring.
In the NHL, a season like that in the final year of a contract, means a big raise is coming.
Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Panarin wasn’t in the NHL, but after the year he had, several NHL teams wanted that to change.
ESPN Chicago reported that over half the league had interest in Paranin; six teams put reasonable offers on the table.
In the end, Panarin was a Chicago Blackhawk, and the wait until fall, when the ‘Hawks can see what the kid can really do, began.
Obviously, a lot has transpired since that first day in May. Now, as the Blackhawks, and their fans, look forward, many are starting to ponder just what the Blackhawks will look like when they begin their title defense in October.
For those that don’t already, Panarin’s name should be penciled in there, somewhere.
The 23-year old is just about to enter his prime, and if he lives up to the hype (he has been dubbed “Russian Patrick Kane“), the Blackhawks could have a long, successful road ahead of them, just as they did (and still do) with the Real Patrick Kane.
It’s not all positives, however. Panarin is slightly undersized by NHL standards, falling short of 6 feet tall, and weighing 170 pounds. However, with the emergence of smaller players like Tyler Johnson and Johnny Gaudreau recently, and gradually over the past several seasons, it’s becoming less and less of a worry.
Panarin ill have a limited window of opportunity to get accustomed to the ways of the North American game. It was the same window given to other Blackhawks’ signees such as Teuvo Teravainen, and it turned out to be not enough time. Teravainen was sent down to Rockford in the AHL, where he developed his game. The Blackhawks won’t have that opportunity with Panarin.
An educated guess would tell you that Panarin cracks the Blackhawks’ roster next fall. The ‘Hawks will be searching for a winger in place of Patrick Sharp, whose chances of playing with Chicago next year are slim, to none. Panarin’s entry-level contract means he won’t cut in to the already-slim pickings left over on the salary cap after the monster dual contracts given to Kane, and Jonathan Toews, kick in next year.
The thought of a line with Teuvo Teravainen, Patrick Kane, and Artemi Panarin is enough to make heads spin. It certainly would for that line’s opposition, with three of the shiftiest forwards in the game today playing as one.
The Blackhawks can’t expect to keep Panarin around if he doesn’t crack the NHL roster, however. Panarin’s contract has an ‘out’ clause, which means he could be back in the KHL next fall if he fails to make the Blackhawks’ October team. However, if that happens, the Blackhawks will turn to their young talent that has been drafted and developed over the past few years, such as Ryan Hartman, or Phillip Danault.
Though the 2015 Championship off-season is just getting started, there’s no reason for Blackhawks’ fans to dread the 2015-16 campaign. If Artemi Panarin is any glimpse into the teams’ future over the next couple of seasons, it seems that the Chicago Blackhawks’ era of dominance, is far from over.
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