Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin thrives during rookie season with Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin thrives during rookie season with Blackhawks

Marian Hossa watched some of the World Championships last May after the Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild. That’s when he got his first glimpse of Artemi Panarin.

“I saw this kid playing Slovakia, and he was just dominating. So I watched another game, and he was dominating again,” Hossa said. “One of the players was fun to watch, and when I heard he was coming to Chicago I was like, ‘Can’t wait for this guy.’ And he didn’t disappoint at all. He just picked up where he left off from what I saw on the TV screen.”

Panarin definitely didn’t disappoint in his first NHL season, bolstering the Blackhawks’ offense with his 77 points. Joining Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, Panarin was part of the Blackhawks’ most consistent line of the season.

General manager Stan Bowman anticipated Panarin adapting to the North American style but admitted he didn’t expect 77 points.

“We had hoped that he would come in here and be an offensive player. In watching his style of play and watching his performance over the last couple years in the KHL, we knew that he had a chance to be an offensive player. Whether he's going to find chemistry or whether he's going to be effective throughout a full season, I didn't expect him to be as good as he was,” Bowman said at the Blackhawks’ closing meetings on Wednesday. “These are the great surprises you have, when he comes in and does something that's sort of unheard of for a first year player. So, that was obviously a big reason for our team's success. He came in, and he gave us a lot offensive production, which we clearly needed.”

For Panarin, his first NHL season was certainly a memorable one.

“I was very happy just to play for Blackhawks,” Panarin said through interpreter Stan Stiopkin. “This is a first-class organization, general manager, coaches, players and the players helping me a lot. It was like a good group of players, and I feel comfortable. I’m really happy to be in Chicago because this is probably the best city in the world.”

Panarin and Kane clicked immediately on the ice. It certainly helped to have fellow Russian Anisimov there, too, especially after Panarin’s good friend/former St. Petersburg teammate Viktor Tikhonov was waived and picked up by Arizona. It was rare when the trio were separated. For coach Joel Quenneville, there was no reason to do so: The line’s consistency and production was tough to beat.

“He came in here as a great story for us, knowing that we got to sign a potentially special player and live through it with all the hype surrounding him and delivered in every which way. He was a special player,” Quenneville said of Panarin. “I loved his consistency. I loved the way he enjoys the game. Liked is progression over the course of the season, though he got a lot more attention as the season progressed.”

Yes, teams started focusing on Panarin that much more as the season continued. And Anisimov said that’s why Panarin has to bring even more in his sophomore season here.

“He can do a lot more,” he said. “This was the first season for him, and he adapted. But for the next season he needs to improve his game to another level because everybody’s going to be prepared for him. He showed his potential, and he needs to be better.”

Panarin said that he will play for Team Russia in the upcoming World Championships. He said there are a few things he needs to improve upon entering the fall of 2016 — “ confidence, playing 1-on-1 in the attacking zone,” he said. His first season here, however, was a great one. Hossa was right: What he saw from Panarin on TV translated onto the NHL ice.

“It was just fun to watch him. And he and Kane were so dynamic and so much fun to watch,” Hossa said. “What a season they had.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”