Artemi Panarin was coming off his great game the other night when he was asked why things are working so well on that second line, especially with he and Patrick Kane.
“Because (Artem) Anisimov’s really good,” Panarin said through Viktor Tikhonov. “The missing piece.”
Panarin and Kane have gotten the lion’s share of the second-line attention this season, and understandably so. They’ve recorded a lot of points. But Anisimov deserves credit of his own for being that second-line center the Blackhawks needed.
And Anisimov’s done pretty well in the points department, too: His six goals are second best on the team (Kane leads with 10), and his nine points are fourth. Anisimov has helped the Blackhawks fill that void on the second line as well as on special teams.
“He’s very useful: faceoffs, size and he anticipates well both sides of the puck,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That line, we got away from it a couple of games, and just getting them back together, you can see something connecting between both his wingers. He complements them in a good way.”
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The Blackhawks signed Anismov to a five-year, $22.75 million deal one day after acquiring him in the deal that sent Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They look at him as their second-line center for the next few years to come, and his impact has been instantaneous.
“I think you look at the way he plays,” Kane said. “He’s a big strong center man, a left-handed shot, he’s good on face offs and he’s also good on both ends of the ice and in front of the net. When you combine a lot of those skills together, you’re going to have a pretty good hockey player.”
For Anisimov, playing with Panarin and Kane hasn’t required a lot of adjustments.
“I just pass the puck to them and create space and do the hard work,” said Anisimov, who added why the three clicked so quickly. “I think we play the same hockey, all three of us. We just get connected. We have a chemistry and just play hockey.”
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Anisimov’s contributions have also been strong on special teams, where the Blackhawks lost a few key players in offseason moves. Two of Anisimov’s goals are short-handed and he recorded his first power-play goal with the Blackhawks on Sunday night against Edmonton.
“He does a lot of little things well, whether it’s getting in on the fore-check or grinding out pucks along the goal line, below the goal line or along the boards and popping it to those two other guys, Kaner and Panarin. He’s a big body in front of the net, and he’s good at screening the goalie,” Duncan Keith said. “He does a lot of those little smart plays you need, and I think he’s a big reason why that line’s effective.”
Anisimov said earlier this season that he would feel more comfortable with the Blackhawks the more games he played. He’s pretty much looked at home from the start, be it on that line or on special teams. The Blackhawks expected him to make an impact, to be that “missing piece,” that has long been the team’s second-line center spot. He’s done that immediately.
“I don’t know who’s been a bigger surprise between him and Panarin,” Kane said. “They’ve both have been tremendous to start the season and probably better than we all thought both of them were. It’s been fun playing with those guys.”