Winger Artemi Panarin of the Columbus Blue Jackets was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent in 2015. The native of Korkino, Russia started his pro career in his homeland in 2008/09 with Vityaz Chekhov of the Kontinental Hockey League before joining SKA Saint Petersburg in 2012/13. He played 263 games in the KHL with 76 goals and 107 assists for 183 points and added 29 points in 42 playoff games. He helped his team win a championship in 2014/15 with 20 points in 20 playoff outings and was named to the league’s First All-Star Team.
NHL Scouts overlooked Panarin and he wasn’t drafted, possibly because he’s just 5-feet-11-inches tall and weighs less than 170 lbs. The Blackhawks took notice of him though and in April of 2015 he signed a two-year deal with them on an entry-level contract. Panarin scored in NHL debut and enjoyed an excellent season in 2015/16 with 30 goals and 47 assists for 77 points in 80 games. He led the league in rookie scoring playing on a line with fellow winger Patrick Kane and center Artem Anisimov on Chicago’s second unit.
Kane also benefited from Panarin’s fine play as he led the league in scoring and won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. Chicago made the playoffs, but were ousted by the St. Louis Blues in the first round with Panarin scoring two goals and five assists in seven contests. His first season was quite successful though and he was named rookie of the year and honored with the Calder Trophy. He received the Kharlamov Trophy in his homeland for being the top pro Russian player of the year. In addition, he earned earned a bonus of $2.55 million from the Blackhawks for finishing the campaign in the top 10 in the NHL scoring race.
There was no sophomore jinx for Panarin as he registered 31 goals and 43 helpers for 74 points in 2016/17 to prove his first season was no trick of the light. Chicago signed him to a two-year contract extension just after Christmas, 2016 for a total of $12 million and he ended the campaign by making the league’s Second All-Star Team. The Blackhawks made the playoffs again, but were swept in four games by the Nashville Predators and Panarin managed just a lone assist.
In a shock move, Panarin was traded in June, 2017 as the Blackhawks shipped him to the Columbus Blue Jackets with a sixth-round draft choice and prospect Tyler Motte. In return Chicago acquired forward Brandon Saad, a fifth-round 2018 draft choice and goaltender Anton Forsberg. Panarin recorded 27 goals and 55 assists for the Blue Jackets in 2017/18 to set a career and team-high with 82 in points. Columbus reached the playoffs, but were sent home by the eventual Stanley Cup winners the Washington Capitals after six games. The Blue Jackets won the first two games of the series and Panarin chipped in with two goals and five assists in seven games.
Panarin has represented Russia at several international tournaments and took home a gold medal from the World Junior Championships in 2011. He scored twice in the third period including the late game-winner in a 5-3 win over Canada after trailing 3-0 during the third period to take the tournament. He won a silver medal at the World Championships in 2015 with 10 points in 10 games and a bronze at the the same event in 2016 and 2017. He also played in the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
While he may be a tad small, Panarin is a highly-skilled and creative player who can score and set up his linemates on a regular basis. He possesses a terrific shot, but won’t hesitate to pass the puck if he sees a teammate in better position.
Playmaking: In terms of pure vision, Panarin may be unmatched in the NHL. He doesn’t carve through defenses with superhuman speed. He just sees the slightest openings and possesses the touch required to complete high-danger passes at a stunning rate. Whether it’s a rocket through a tight window or a delicate saucer into the slot, there’s seemingly no pass he can’t make.
Finish: You can’t sag off him and dare him to shoot because he’ll take you up on the offer and make you pay. His wrister is accurate and deceptive, and he can blast one-timers from the left circle as well. He also boasts an array of nifty dekes to fool goaltenders in tight. He’s a terrifying dual threat.
Puck Control: Panarin’s ability to keep the puck on a string in all situations tilts the ice in his team’s favor. He can navigate through the neutral zone without breaking a sweat, he can buy time for his teammates to work themselves open on the attack and he can embarrass defensemen with clever one-on-one moves. He’s particularly fond of cutting inside on the rush.
Power Play: Though he’s an absolute wizard at even strength, his impact on the power play isn’t as dramatic because he thrives on movement. That’s how he finds holes to exploit in the defense. The man advantage is typically a more static proposition, so he ends up settling for complementary passes or deciding to shoot from a standstill.
Strength: Another reason you want Panarin in motion is that he’s 5’11”, 170 pounds. He doesn’t have the frame to consistently hold off defenders down low or in the trenches. This is especially apparent in when the tempo slows to a crawl and you have to battle for every inch of ice you can get.