By Adam Hess
Back in April the Blackhawks announced that they had agreed to terms with 23-year old Russian Artemi Panarin. Panarin rose to stardom in Russia’s KHL playing with CSKA Moscow and on the international stage with Russia’s national team. His skill was undeniable, and he even drew comparisons to fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings, and the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane.
The signing seemed nearly perfect for the Blackhawks, who were essentially guaranteed to lose longtime goal scorer Patrick Sharp due to an unfortunate Salary Cap situation this summer. Panarin seemed to be the perfect person to slot right into Sharp’s vacant spot, although many assumed that there would be some time before Panarin was really able to put his skill on full display at the NHL level. After all, there are countless stories and KHL success not translating for players when they cross the pond to North America.
The former played out as expected, as Panarin slotted right onto the Blackhawks second line with Kane and Artem Anisimov, even after missing much of the preseason due to injury. The latter, however, has not.
Even in just Panarin’s first preseason game – his first in North America and on North American ice – his skill was extremely evident. At one point, he danced around three defenders with dekes and clever skating before getting the puck to Kane for a rush into the offensive zone. And really, that was only the beginning.
It continued in his first official NHL game, as he immediately started making impactful plays and even scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot. He was all over the ice driving play and creating scoring chances, looking like an established NHL veteran in his very first game.
His skill continued to be on display in the two games against the New York Islanders over the weekend, particularly in Saturday’s 4-1 win at home. He played a key role in one of the most exciting sequences of play in the game’s second period when his shot on goal and subsequent puck retrieval kept the play alive and eventually led to a Kane goal.
As exciting as Panarin has been so far, though, the best still is yet to come. He’s still only three games into his NHL career, after all, and while teams are surely going to adjust the way they play him defensively. However, while teams are adjusting to him, he’ll be adjusting to them as well, and he’ll be even more comfortable in the Chicago system and on the North American ice.
To put it pretty bluntly, I’m scared for the NHL this season. The Blackhawks are still one of the best teams in the league this season, and they’re adding another extremely skilled player to the fold. And with Teuvo Teravainen continuing to develop and shine himself, Panarin’s presence is an extra large sized plus.
Suffice it to say, Panarin is going to be pretty good.