Chicago Blackhawks’ Panarin And Avoiding Sophomore Slump

Apr 9, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Can Artemi Panarin build off his rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks?

This time last year, Artremi Panarin was a relatively unknown winger on the Chicago Blackhawks who was just signed out of the KHL. He impressed out of camp and was paired with countryman Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks’ second line.

It would only take one game to see the kind of true talent Panarin possesses as he began a season that would make him one of the biggest surprises of 2015-16 and ultimately the Calder Trophy winner for NHL Rookie of the Year.

Panarin joined the Blackhawks after playing in the Russian KHL for the better part of seven years, amassing 183 points (76 goals, 107 assists) in 263 games with SKA St. Petersburg and Vityaz Chekhov.

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So when he started leading NHL rookies in scoring and started making a big name for himself in the NHL, the chatter started that he wasn’t really a “rookie” in professional hockey. While that’s a true statement, after Connor McDavid missed nearly half the season, name another first-year NHL player who played better or a bigger role for their team than Panarin.

That’s what the Calder Trophy is for: first-year NHL players. So while Panarin is 25 years old, he was a rookie, and deserved the Calder Trophy.

With his first year behind him, Panarin now heads into the 2016-17 season without any questions surrounding his skill. He will no longer be a surprise to NHL teams, and the duo of him and Kane is going to be looked at as one of the biggest, if not the biggest driving force behind the Blackhawks’ offense.

With teams now able to gameplan around him, will Panarin be able to avoid a “sophomore slump” in 2016-17 and once again be a top-10 NHL scorer?

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Calder Trophy a prelude to long-term NHL success

The Calder Trophy has been awarded to some of the biggest names in the NHL over the years. Greats like Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Teemu Selanne, all the way to Terry Sawchuk and Bobby Orr have won the award, and it is more often than not a precursor to a successful NHL career.

Thirty previous winner have gone into the NHL Hall of Fame, including former Blackhawk winners Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour.

Peter Forsberg was the last Calder winner to go into the Hall of Fame and winners since him that have, or are on their way to having, Hall Of Fame credentials include Daniel Alfredsson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Panarin’s linemate Kane.  Needless to say, the award comes with a ton of history behind it.

For Panarin, it will be key to him and the Blackhawks that his chemistry with Kane continues to drive the Blackhawks offensively. It’s no surprise that playing alongside a skilled player like Kane helped Panarin transition to the NHL, and likewise that Kane playing alongside a player of Panarin’s caliber gave him the ability to have the best year of his career in 2015-16.

Panarin, Kane leading Blackhawks’ offense

Last season, Kane and Panarin were on the ice together for 1,004:06 minutes of even-strength ice time. That’s 85 percent of Panarin’s even-strength ice time in 2015-16, and it showed in the stats that both Kane and Panarin provided for the Blackhawks. The success last season ran through the duo, and it looks like 2016-17 will be no different.

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The biggest question will be how teams  play against Panarin now that he is an established major threat when he is on the ice. Will teams continue to key on Kane and force Panarin and Anisimov to beat them? Or is it even possible to slow down either Kane or Panarin when both are on the ice?

A gameplan to play Panarin physically and try to take him out of the game with aggressive defense might not work. At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Panarin doesn’t seem to have the prototypical size to play physically, but last season showed that he isn’t afraid to take or deliver a hit. Also, isn’t afraid to drop the gloves either.

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It looks as if the Blackhawks have their weapon of choice on offense with the second-line trio of Panarin, Kane and Anisimov, but will it be enough to guide them back to the top of the NHL?

Kane and Anisimov are proven constants, but will Panarin live up to his rookie season billing? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!