Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin not worried about lengthy NHL season


Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin not worried about lengthy NHL season

DALLAS – Artemi Panarin took Patrick Kane’s pass and quickly got to the slot, where he slipped a backhand shot past Calvin Pickard for his 18th goal of the season.

It’s been a bountiful season for the 24-year-old Russian, who gives an impish grin when he’s reminded that, despite his age and pro career back home, in the NHL he’s nevertheless a rookie. But there is plenty that’s new for Panarin this season: a new country, a new hockey league and a new version of a regular season, one much longer than the ones he’s used to from the Kontinental Hockey League.

On Tuesday night Panarin played in his 54th NHL game, equaling the longest full regular season he’s played in his career (with SKA St. Petersburg last season). The Blackhawks have 28 games remaining in the regular season; factor that in with what the Blackhawks do in the playoffs – which have been lengthy lately – and Panarin will be playing the most hockey of his career this season.

But Panarin isn’t worried about the grind.

“I’m in good shape and [have had] many breaks,” Panarin said through Stan Stiopkin. “I’ve had time to rest. I’ve had time to relax and to get in shape.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Panarin’s play has been rather consistent throughout this season. Maybe he’s had a goal slump or two here and there but the work he’s done with Kane and Artem Anisimov, even if it’s assists or just the threat of scoring, has been great. Anisimov said earlier this season that Panarin hadn’t reached his highest level of play yet. Asked that same question again on Thursday, Anisimov said Panarin is getting there – sort of.

“He started showing but not so much. He’s very good with the puck and he can do circles and dangle, but he’s not doing that much here,” Anisimov said with a smile. “I don’t know why.”

As for maintaining the high level and not wearing out, Panarin should be fine. With the Blackhawks, considering their schedule and level of success, they don’t practice as much as other teams. Coach Joel Quenneville makes sure players get plenty of rest.

“I know he’s been pretty good so far, and very consistent,” Quenneville said. “As a team, we’re pretty conscientious of rest and implementing it at the needed time for certain guys, as well. Whether it’s days off or ice time, his play will dictate that area.”

Anisimov went through the Russia-to-U.S.-hockey transition a few years ago – he played two seasons of 74 and 80 games, respectively, in the minors before joining the New York Rangers in the 2009-10 season. While the regular-schedule is longer here, Anisimov said it’s less taxing.

[MORE: Captain Overtime strikes again for fifth time this season]

“In Russia we have breaks for the international tournaments. Here, with the pace of things, you just play games,” he said. “It makes things easier.”

Travel over here is much easier, too. The Blackhawks’ longest trip may be about four hours or so (Vancouver and California). Traveling across Russia? Well, that takes a little more time. St. Petersburg to Khabarovsk, for example, is nearly 10 hours.

There’s also another factor. Everything here, on and off the ice, is new and exciting for Panarin. And he’s enjoying every minute of it.

“I was more tired in the KHL because I think, maybe, this is my first season and there are a lot of emotions,” Panarin said. “I feel better here.”

Even if Panarin doesn’t really feel like a rookie, he is one on this side of the pond. And entering Friday night’s games Panarin is leading all rookies in goals (18), assists (32) and points (50). Will Panarin win the Calder Trophy this season? As he said through Stiopkin, “whatever happens happens.” Regardless, Panarin is having a tremendous season as part of a stellar second line.

And nobody sees him losing steam anytime soon.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Kane said. “He’s pretty focused on keeping his body feeling good and staying in shape for when these games do come along. I think he’ll be OK. He’s still a young kid, even last year, after his season, you saw him in the world championships there, he was pretty dynamic there, too. So I think he’ll be fine going into the latter half of the season.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.