Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Why Artemi Panarin is the Calder Trophy favorite

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Blackhawks: Why Artemi Panarin is the Calder Trophy favorite

Artemi Panarin wasted no time introducing himself to the NHL with a big night in his Blackhawks debut on Oct. 7 against the New York Rangers.

Since then, Panarin has emerged as one of the league's top rookies and the early frontrunner to win the Calder Memorial Trophy for best rookie at 3-2 odds, according to Bovada. Edmonton's Connor McDavid — the heavy preseason favorite — suffered a broken collarbone on Nov. 3 and won't return for approximately another month (or perhaps longer), which likely eliminates him from the conversation.

Following a three-point night in an overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, Panarin bumped his point total to 26 — tied for seventh-best among all players and is five points more than the second leading rookie scorer, Arizona's Max Domi (21 points) — through the first 26 games of the season, a pace that projects him to finish with a point-per-game average.

[MORE: Pavel Bure: Blackhawks rookie Artemi Panarin 'reminds me of myself']

The last rookie to do that was Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07 when he averaged 1.09 points per game with 85 points in 78 games. For comparison's sake, Patrick Kane tallied 0.88 points per game during his 2007-08 rookie season in which he won the Calder Trophy with 72 points in 82 contests.

As the season goes on, Panarin should continue to consistently appear on the scoresheet, even more so if Kane — who's also the early favorite to win the Hart Trophy — continues to play at an MVP level. And that's precisely why it may take some votes away from Panarin, but it shouldn't.

In fact, statistics prove that Kane is actually benefiting from Panarin more than vice versa.

When Kane and Panarin are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.5 percent of shot attempts, according to hockeyanalysis.com. When they're apart, Panarin is controlling 54.0 percent of even-strength shot attempts while Kane has seen that number drop to 48.4 percent.

For validation, look no further than last year when Kane was in the thick of the Hart Trophy race averaging 1.05 points per game — 64 points in 61 games — before a collarbone injury sidelined the Blackhawks star for the rest of the regular season. Ironically, he had 26 points in the first 26 games last season, identical to Panarin's this year.

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Through 26 games this season, Kane's points per game average is 1.58.

That's more than half a point per game higher than a year ago, a campaign widely considered to be Kane's best to date. That's a significant increase, which has to do with a combination of both Kane elevating his game and Panarin providing a large boost.

So while it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Panarin's numbers are a byproduct of Kane's historic start, the stats confirm Panarin isn't just along for the ride. He's thriving, and his teammates are benefiting greatly because of it.

Most importantly, so are the Blackhawks.

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.”