No. 1: Artemi Panarin Takes NHL By Storm (Then Gets Paid)
This guy is something, isn’t he? Stan Bowman signed little-known (in America) Artemi Panarin to a two-year, low-cost deal prior to the 2015-16 season. It was seen as one of many possible ways to replace the departed Brandon Saad.
And replace Panarin has. Actually, he’s done even more than that. The guy is set to earn Saad-like money after just two seasons in the NHL.
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Panarin and Patrick Kane had instant on-ice chemistry despite a language barrier, and Panarin’s on-ice vision, quick hands and laser-like shot made and continue to make him a constant offensive threat.
Between January and April of the 2015-16 regular season, Panarin piled up 43 points in 41 games. He proved absolutely electric on the ice, and also came with a bit of fire. Teams had very little idea how to stop him.
That led to the 25-year-old, with a bit of controversy, being named the Calder Trophy winner for the league’s rookie of the year. Panarin has followed that up by leading the Blackhawks in points so far this season, boasting 37 through as many games while dazzling with his left-circle one-timer and a bevy of other moves.
While many fans are currently wringing their hands over Panarin’s contract status in Chicago (EDITOR’S NOTE: This was written just prior to Panarin’s contract extension), we also have to enjoy what the young Russian brought to the table this year. He just seems to love playing hockey, and Blackhawks fans love to watch him.
On top of that, we also managed to see Panarin get a two-year contract extension just before the close of the calendar year. I’m personally surprised he took a bridge deal, but I think Bowman did a great job with this decision and keeping Panarin around at least another couple years.
And so the stunningly incredible success Panarin had in 2016, along with his new contract, is my No. 1 moment among the Blackhawks’ best of 2016.