Remember during the first round of the playoffs last season when the Chicago Blackhawks were playing the Nashville Predators? Media and fans alike were in love with backup netminder Scott Darling. This soft-spoken giant of a man was doing an excellent job filling in for the struggling Corey Crawford. Darling’s success story of how he made it to the NHL was the stuff that fairytales are made of.
Well this season we all have a new sweetheart to get excited about, and he comes in the form of a Russian forward named Artemi Panarin. Panarin has played in the KHL since 2009, but he has made his NHL debut this season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Everyone had high hopes for him coming into the season, but he has already exceeded expectations.
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Panarin currently sports 4 goals and 11 assists for 15 points in the first 15 games. This puts him on a track of a point per game! He is now second on the team in points, trailing only Patrick Kane (who, incidentally, is tied with Tyler Seguin for the league lead in this department). Not bad for a rookie!
Panarin doesn’t like to consider himself a rookie. As I mentioned above, he has played in the KHL for many years, and he’s 24 years old. Most rookies are 18 or 19 years old. Nevertheless, his contributions make him the current leader for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
During Sunday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, Panarin tallied 2 goals and an assist. This put him ahead of the former Calder favorite Connor McDavid, who was sidelined with a broken clavicle on Nov. 3. Up to that point, McDavid had 5 goals and 7 assists.
As you all know, most hockey players have nicknames. Coach Joel Quenneville recently dubbed Panarin as “The Bread Man.” This has a few different connotations. The first is that his last name is very similar to the popular restaurant chain, Panera Bread Company. The second is more of a metaphor based upon his play. It refers to him being the “bread and butter” that helps the team be successful.
Chicago Sun-Times beat writer Mark Lazerus recently posted on Twitter that he doesn’t like this “Bread Man” nickname. It sparked all kinds of fun back-and-forth about alternatives. But I’m not sure who Lazerus thinks he is. Coach Q started all this, and the name has caught on with players and fans alike. I personally think it’s the perfect nickname, and I will continue to use it to my heart’s content!
The Bread Man attributes much of his success to his linemates, Kane and Artem Anisimov. The trio has combined for 20 of the 39 goals scored so far by the Chicago Blackhawks. Panarin was briefly promoted to the top line with Jonathan Toews while Marian Hossa was out for a few games with a minor injury. He looked good there, but didn’t generate any points.
So, the dynamic second line was reunited against the Oilers, and the chemistry was undeniable. Not only did Panarin attain his 2 goals and 1 assist, but Anisimov had a goal and an assist, and Kane tallied a goal and 3 assists. Their line was responsible for every goal in the 4-2 win.
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When asked about it after the game, Panarin felt this trio might be even better than before. Why is that? “Because I scored 2 goals,” he said. But don’t worry, Blackhawks fans. This young man with the infectious smile isn’t getting too big for his skates. When questioned about why he and Kane work so well together, he responded, “Because Anisimov is really good.” At the end of the interview, Panarin was being asked about his confidence. His interpreter, Viktor Tikhonov, said Panarin thought of himself as a good player. Panarin made sure to nudge him and correct him. Apparently he wanted to say he was just an “OK” player.
If this is Artemi Panarin as an “OK” player, I can’t wait to see what comes next. The Bread Man is certainly making a name for himself.
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