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Chicago Blackhawks Grades: Artemi Panarin Amazes

By Colin Likas
Apr 1, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates his goal against Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) during the third period at MTS Centre. Chicago won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates his goal against Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) during the third period at MTS Centre. Chicago won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports /
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Artemi Panarin‘s First NHL Season Was Certainly A Good One

With the Chicago Blackhawks likely dipping into the Kontinental Hockey League pool to acquire defenseman Michal Kempny (still unofficial at this point), we have to call back to the Blackhawks’ most recent KHL addition to see how successful pulling from the Russian league can be.

I’m talking, of course, about Artemi Panarin. The 24-year-old may have pissed off a ton of non-Blackhawks fans by earning a finalist spot for the Calder Trophy despite being just an NHL rookie and far from a hockey rookie, but that’s not what his 2015-16 season was about. Far from it.

The guy came in knowing about as much English as a newborn baby, having to adjust to the North American ice, the NHL style of play and teammates he’d never played with. He had a little help with fellow Russians Artem Anisimov and Viktor Tikhonov dotting the Blackhawks roster, but it was really a sink-or-swim moment for Panarin, especially when he immediately got playing time with Patrick Kane.

That … that worked out pretty well, wouldn’t you say?

chicago blackhawks
Apr 9, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

2015-16 regular-season stats: 80 games, 30 goals, 47 assists, plus-8 rating, 32 penalty minutes, 187 shots on goal

2016 postseason stats: 7 games, 2 goals, 5 assists, plus-2 rating, 14 penalty minutes, 23 shots on goal

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Positives

Let’s start with the obvious here, in that Panarin finally gave Kane a dynamic linemate not named Jonathan Toews, allowing Kane to really reach a new offensive level this season. Panarin certainly fed off that with his own stats, but it wasn’t entirely Kane carrying the two-man show. Panarin’s offensive instincts and almost-predictive ability to get to wherever he needed to be in the offensive zone led to him being a nearly unstoppable element at times.

The connection Panarin formed with Kane this season is almost unheard of. Panarin, as I mentioned above, had only played overseas up to this point. There was no way we could expect him to bond with any Blackhawk right out of the gate. And yet, he and Kane were a well-oiled machine from Day 1, despite Panarin’s language barrier.

How’s this for a first NHL season:

— Panarin won the rookie scoring race by 21 points over Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. Sure, Connor McDavid might’ve blown everyone out of the water with a full season at his disposal, but that’s neither here nor there when it comes to analyzing Panarin’s year.

— Panarin led all rookie goal scorers by six, and he had 13 more assists than the next-closest rookie.

— Panarin had two more powerplay points and game-winning goals than any other rookie, and only five true rookies played in more regular-season games than Panarin (none of them played in the postseason, though).

The most standout stats to me are the assists and games played. On the assists front, most anyone could get to the home-plate area of the ice and take sweet feeds from Kane all night, every night. And sometimes Panarin was the beneficiary of those. But just as often, Panarin was the one feeding Kane, or their linemate Anisimov, for a sweet assist. Panarin didn’t come in wanting to be all about scoring goals. He just wanted to win.

The games-played stat is severely underrated in this instance. Panarin had never played more than 74 games in one professional hockey season, and he’d never suited up for more than 54 bouts in the regular season. A jump from 54 to 80, going from the KHL to the NHL, is not something that should be underestimated. That Panarin kept producing, even going into the postseason, is a testament to what kind of talent he brings to the ice.

Negatives

There were always things Panarin was going to need to work on in his transition to the NHL. While the offensive production certainly isn’t a problem, there were a few noticeable concerns in his game throughout the season.

While his offensive instincts are solid, his decisions with the puck outside the offensive zone were sometimes questionable. Panarin was the victim of several neutral-zone turnovers and even some defensive-zone turnovers that led to the opposing team getting a scoring chance.

Panarin has a tendency to hang on to the puck too long and then try to make a play up ice, resulting in the opposition reading these plays. It might be something Panarin was able to get away with in the KHL, a league with less forechecking and defensive prowess than the NHL, but he’ll have to adjust his game if he doesn’t want to end up in the Joel Quenneville doghouse.

It would also be nice if Panarin was able to put on some body mass in the offseason. While he wasn’t ragdolled on the ice, necessarily, putting on some additional muscle would certainly help him in scrums along the boards and when trying to hang on to the puck in dangerous situations.

The only other thing I can bring to light is more of a “neutral” than a negative. Panarin was a guy who immediately showed himself as a team player, and that meant he would come to the aid of his teammates when he felt they had been wronged. We saw him do so for Kane and others throughout the season, jumping right into frays and probably yelling at opponents in some garbled English.

Here’s the thing, though: Not all situations call for this response. Panarin is not going to want to develop a reputation as a hot head who can be easily taken off his game. There are plenty of NHLers who will exploit that (paging Steve Ott, who should admittedly never be on the ice with Panarin, but you get the point). And Panarin taking needless penalties would obviously be a negative as well. Sticking up for your teammates is certainly a nice plus, but an even-keel approach to this area would be advised for a player of Panarin’s importance.

Next: Marian Hossa's Future In Chicago

Grade: A-

His struggles with turnovers throughout the season keep him from an A. But the Blackhawks got all they could have hoped for and much, much more this season from Panarin. The only issue moving forward: How are they going to pay him and ice any sort of Stanley Cup contender?

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