As the season reaches the NHL All-Star break, the Chicago Blackhawks have played in 53 games, totaling 70 points in the standings and a first-place spot in the Western Conference, second only to the Washington Capitals in the entire league. Much of this success is credited to the usual Blackhawks suspects like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and Duncan Keith to name a few. But one player has made a large impact with the Blackhawks and, more specifically, with Kane this season in Artemi Panarin.
Panarin has burst onto the NHL scene with Chicago and is currently the leader at the All-Star break for Rookie of the Year honors. After seven seasons in the Russian KHL, starting at the age of 17, Panarin has made the leap to the NHL and has stepped into a role the Blackhawks could not have imagined he’d play right out of the gate: linemate and sidekick to Patrick Kane.
Kane, Panarin, Anisimov attached at the hip
Along with Panarin making a splash with the Blackhawks, another addition to the team this year is on pace to have his best NHL season in fellow Russian Artem Anisimov. Making his NHL debut back in the 2008-09 season with the New York Rangers, Anisimov had been a full-time NHL center for seven seasons with the Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets before landing in Chicago this offseason. But in those seven seasons, Anisimov only eclipsed the 40-point mark once, in 2010-11 with New York, and only reached the 20-goal mark once, in 2013-14 with Columbus.
Since joining the Blackhawks, Anisimov has played with Panarin and Kane night in and night out. With the consistent line pairing, and playing with the dynamics of Panarin and Kane on his right and left sides, Anisimov is currently on pace to top both the 20-goal and 40-point marks this season and possibly go above the 50-point mark for the first time in his career.
While Panarin and Anisimov are headed towards career NHL seasons, so is Kane. Outside of the 2009-10 season, Kane’s current statline is on par or better than every other season in his nine-year NHL career. He has reached the 30-goal mark for the second time in his career and has scored 70 points or more for the fourth time in his career, and still has 29 games to play.
Consistency of Ice-time
Kane’s success is completely tied to the dynamic of playing with the same two linemates, Panarin and Anisimov, every night. Looking back at the past five seasons for Kane, he has played just 40 minutes more in a whole season with any one player not named Anisimov or Panarin than he has with Anisimov and Panarin in 53 games.
Looking at 5-on-5 ice time for Kane from 2010-present, here are the top five forwards he has played with:
- Jonathan Toews – 722:47 (2010-11)
- Artemi Panarin – 688:10 (2015-16)
- Artem Anisimov – 661:26 (2015-16)
- Brad Richards – 495:31 (2014-15)
- Marian Hossa – 487:22 (2011-12)
Like I said, there are 29 more games to be played in the 2015-16 regular season, so, yes, Panarin and Anisimov will be Nos. 1 and 2 on that list by the end of the season. If you have some time, I highly recommend watching this video of all Kane and Panarin goals from 2015-16 just to see what I mean. Watch how many of their goals are set up by the other, or by Anisimov. It’s incredible.
Keeping the band together
It was mentioned earlier this week that the Blackhawks organization would like to offer Panarin a contract extension this offseason. While this move may cause some role-player casualties (i.e. Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger), it goes without saying that if Kane and Anisimov’s seasons are any indication of what to expect in the future, keeping Panarin will be a key component to sustaining success for Chicago. While Anisimov and Kane are locked up until at least 2021, getting Panarin to agree to a long-term, cap-friendly contract this summer might be the biggest issue the organization has to face.
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What do you think? Is the pairing of Kane with Panarin and Anisimov the biggest factor for the Blackhawks’ success this year? Let us know in the comments section.