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Chicago Blackhawks: Russians Spark Blackhawks’ Offense

By Nick Rogers

Good day, Blackhawks fans! So far, we’re a handful of games into the season. Now that there’s meaningful hockey being played, we’ve learned quite a bit about the Chicago Blackhawks in all phases of the 200-foot game. But, there’s one of those phases, and a particular player, that sticks out in a very, very good way.

As many of you know, the Blackhawks dealt fan-favorite and rising star Brandon Saad (sorry for reminding you) to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a cache of offensive talent, but many questioned Stan Bowman for the decision he made, with many wondering why the Blackhawks would trade future elite talent for a reliable center in Russian Artem Anisimov and relatively unknown prospects. But Bowman also went out and got Viktor Tikhonov and Artemi Panarin for relatively cheap off the free-agent market as well. The addition of these speedy, yet gritty Russian players is giving the Chicago Blackhawks three talented forwards who already have shown what they can do. I’ll break down and grade how they’ve done so far.

Oct 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates after scoring against New York Islanders goalie Jean-Francois Berube (30) during the second period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Artemi Panarin

As of right now — and bear in mind, we are only three games into the season — Bowman looks like a genius for this move. It’s almost as if Bowman knew what he had on the left wing in Panarin when he let Saad go to Columbus. Panarin has filled the gap left in the Saad trade and then some. The left winger has absolutely filthy puck-handling skills, a quick, fluid, almost-artful release and explosive speed. Add in the fact he has the instincts and awareness of an elite-talent forward at only 23 and this kid has the potential to be a next-level winger.

I mean, it’s almost unheard of for a player with so much hype around him from the KHL to deliver right away in the NHL  and sustain it. We all saw what happened with Ilya Kovalchuk in New Jersey, didn’t we?

What’s even more unheard of is since Panarin doesn’t know English yet, he has to have a translator. Anisimov and Tikhonov are having to speak to Panarin in rapid-fire Russian while Joel Quenneville, Mike Kitchen or Kevin Dineen relays instructions to the lines during timeouts or line changes. There have been many nicknames given to Panarin, the most accepted being “The Bread Man” due to many pronouncing his name like “Panera,” as in the delicious bread company and cafe.

Panarin has already made an impact, and the ’Hawks are reaping huge offensive dividends from the youth’s early performance.

Grade: A+

Oct 9, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) scores a short handed goal against New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss (1) during the first period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Artem Anisimov

Anisimov is a bit of a long story, so I’ll shorten it. Anisimov is a proven NHL second-line center who the ’Hawks have been courting for some time. Bowman effectively addressed in the long-term the lingering problem the Blackhawks have had at second-line center by acquiring Anisimov in the Saad deal. Anisimov is still young at 27, and has already given the Blackhawks a scoring punch on that lethal second forward line. Anisimov scored a shorthanded goal for the Blackhawks against the Islanders and also showed he can set up his countryman Panarin and teammate Patrick Kane as well. Anisimov also fills a unique team role touched on earlier as a translator for Panarin, along with Tikhonov. Q grabs “whoever’s closer” when he speaks to Panarin, so he also fills a bit of an unsung, if not strange, role on the offense as well.

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Anisimov has the right mixture to become the solidified second-line center for the Chicago Blackhawks for years to come. His only concern is how long the transition from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference will take, as teams in the East play a different style, a style that Anisimov is accustomed to.

Grade: B

Viktor Tikhonov

I’m not sure where to start with Tikhonov. He’s a right winger who was originally added for depth, played well in camp and preseason and was given a larger role with Kyle Baun turnover-ing his way into Coach Q’s doghouse. Tikhonov has been really solid in his third-line role, providing some snarl but also some scoring chances. Tikhonov playing well really lends a thought on whether or not Baun could be sent to Rockford or dealt in a deal for a defenseman the Blackhawks are seeking.

Tikhonov hasn’t been a machine like Anisimov and Panarin, but that’s not really his role. His role is with the third line — to  harass and grind the opposing teams’ lines down while providing a few scoring chances.

Grade: C+

These Russians have potential in their assigned roles to be key players on the Chicago Blackhawks, and I have no doubt about how the ’Hawks’ season will go if they keep performing as they have so far. It maybe early, but the proof is there in the performance of each of these guys.

Here’s to meaningful Blackhawks hockey being played once again. Hockey’s back, and I hope all is well with all Blackhawks fans.

Next: 3 Blackhawks To Watch Against Philadelphia

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