Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin thrilled to get extension completed with Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin thrilled to get extension completed with Blackhawks

NASHVILLE – Artemi Panarin was still sporting that sheepish grin on Thursday morning.

He usually has that look of confidence but even more so now, thanks to a two-year extension that will keep him with the city and team he loves.

Panarin, who agreed to a two-year deal worth $12 million on Wednesday, was thrilled to have the process complete. He said he didn’t doubt something would get done, but finishing it before the offseason arrived was a bonus.

“I’m happy with the timing. It’s nice to get it out of the way,” Panarin said via interpreter Andrew Aksyonov. “Some of the pressure is relieved but some additional pressure is now here because I need to justify the trust that’s been given to me and perform as expected or better.”

That’s true, but performance hasn’t been an issue for Panarin in the season in a half he’s been here. The production has been great; so have the performance bonuses he’s earned from that on-ice work. Panarin earned more than $2.5 million in bonuses last season and could do the same in this one, which would add to the salary-cap crunch the Blackhawks will already experience with this latest contract.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

General manager Stan Bowman will have that on his plate again. As for Panarin, it’s about continuing the work he’s done with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov.

“I’m very happy to play along with Patrick. Any hockey player would cherish the opportunity to play along with a player like that,” Panarin said. “It gives me an opportunity to play my best hockey.”

Kane said it wasn’t at the point yet where he wondered if Panarin’s deal would get done. He and his line mates have had other priorities. The chance to keep working on what they’ve done thus far, and for a few more years, is enticing.

“I think Anisimov still has four years after this year and then Bread Man for a couple more years. Hopefully we just keep building our chemistry,” Kane said. “I don’t think we’re ever on the ice thinking about contracts or how long we’re going to be here. We’re just trying to build our chemistry every day. When you know we’re going to be here for a while, it’s nice to have that comfort with each other.”

The Blackhawks will once again have some choices to make this offseason. But they got the opportunity to sign Panarin to a deal that works for both of them right now, and everything else will be worked out later.

“If I agreed that means it was very important,” Panarin said of the deal. “Chicago gave me a chance to play at a very high level. I like everything about the team and environment here, and you can’t earn all the money in the world.”

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

ilya_mikheyev_ap.jpg
AP

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

The Blackhawks are always active in the overseas market. Over the last few years, Dominik Kahun, David Kampf, Michal Kempny, Jacob Nilsson, Artemi Panarin and Jan Rutta are among the notable Chicago signings that have come from there. 

And they continue to be an attractive destination.

The Blackhawks have reportedly expressed interest in 24-year-old Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev and 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin, and the feeling is mutual.

Of the 30 NHL teams that have checked in on Mikheyev, TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that the Blackhawks are among the finalists — although it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs could be the frontrunners. Mikheyev, who's 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, racked up 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games this season for Avangard Omsk of the KHL, and tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 postseason contests. His decision is expected to come this weekend.

Wedin has also reportedly narrowed his list, which includes the Blackhawks. He had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he compiled 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 32 regular-season games and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven playoff contests with Timra IK.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger is expected to make his decision either before or after the 2019 IIHF World Championship, depending on whether or not he plays for Sweden.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.