Chicago Blackhawks’ Artemi Panarin Living NHL Dream

Jan 6, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) with the puck during the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 6, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) with the puck during the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Imagine, if you will, being a young hockey player in Russia. You are a superstar in your own right with the Kontinental Hockey League, the Russian equivalent of the National Hockey League. You have played in that league for seven years, and have made quite a name for yourself. But the NHL is the most elite hockey league in the world. This is where the best of the best go to play. You start to wonder if you can make a career with the NHL. Should you follow this dream and see where it takes you?

This is the true story of Artemi Panarin. He took the plunge and came over to North America in the fall of 2015. It is rumored that he was courted by as many as six different NHL teams, but he chose the Chicago Blackhawks. After all, the ’Hawks have won the Stanley Cup three times in the last six years. If you are going to follow this dream, you might as well start it with a championship team.

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When Panarin signed with the ’Hawks, his agent negotiated stipulations into his contract to ensure he would play for the Chicago Blackhawks and not the Rockford IceHogs in his first year. Panarin didn’t want to end up like Teuvo Teravainen, who spent most of his rookie year with the farm team.

Although Panarin knew he would be with the big team, there was no guarantee he would play with one of the ‘Hawks’ biggest superstars, Patrick Kane. Panarin’s playing style has often been compared to that of Kane’s. But lo and behold, the two had some chemistry during training camp in September. Playing together, they seemed to complement each other.

When the season started, Panarin and Kane were both put on the Chicago Blackhawks’ second line, centered by fellow Russian Artem Anisimov. For the most part, these three have been a unit all season long. Head coach Joel Quenneville is notorious for experimenting and changing up the lines. So the fact that these three have been together for this stretch speaks volumes towards their success.

As of this past Wednesday, 61 games into the season, Panarin has 57 points, which is good for second on the team behind Kane.  This is also tied for fifth in the league in scoring. It is 18 points ahead of rookie Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, making Panarin the front-runner for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.

Panarin’s 22 goals beats everyone on the team except Kane, who has 34. His 35 assists also beats out everyone on the team except Kane, who has 49. The fun part of all this is that there are only a handful of times that one of these two has scored a goal without the other one assisting.  They are truly a dynamic duo, helping each other to be more than the sum of their parts.

Panarin scored his first NHL goal on his first shot in his first game against the New York Rangers on October 7, 2015. This past Wednesday, he scored his first NHL hat trick against these same Rangers. The first of these three goals marked him being the first rookie to score 20 goals this season. That’s a lot of firsts. Not too shabby for your first year in the NHL. And it’s not over yet.

Well, you can’t be the second best scorer on the team without a nickname. Usually your teammates come up with something after you’ve spent some time together. But it was Coach Q himself that coined Panarin as The Breadman. It has a dual meaning.  Panarin’s name is similar to that of the popular restaurant chain, Panera Bread Company. It also refers to being part of the “bread and butter” when it comes to scoring goals. This name has stuck, and now The Breadman is the beloved favorite of thousands of crazy Americans. Not bad for someone who barely speaks the English language yet.

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This past Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks traveled to the White House to be honored for winning the Stanley Cup in the 2014-15 season. As a member of this year’s team, Panarin attended as well. He was in the American capital, shaking hands with the United States President. Pretty cool.

And along with that, he was also in the presence of the Stanley Cup. He got a taste of what it could be like if all this success continues. He is starting to see that this dream has the possibility to lead to the ultimate goal in hockey, hoisting the Cup.

Panarin has made it to the big stage. He has already exceeded everyone’s expectations. What will he accomplish next? The Calder Trophy? A Stanley Cup? As Chicago Blackhawks fans, we are the lucky ones. His success goes hand in hand with that of our favorite team! We have front row seats to watch this dream become a reality.

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