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.”
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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.
“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.”