Blackhawks

As he closes in on them, Artemi Panarin not focused on potential bonuses

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USA TODAY

As he closes in on them, Artemi Panarin not focused on potential bonuses

For the second straight season, Artemi Panarin is producing offensively at a level that has put him among the NHL's best goal-scorers.

And for the second straight season, it may come at a price, something the Blackhawks are certainly willing to pay if it continues to have an impact on winning games.

With a goal in Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, Panarin has now lit the lamp in four straight, and has accumulated 17 points in his last 17 games, vaulting into the top-10 in scoring with 72 points.

If he remains there at season's end, he will earn a $1.725 million bonus that will count against next year's salary cap.

He can hit it a few different ways as well, including top-10 in points-per-game, goals or assists; top-5 in voting for the Selke Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy, or Hart Trophy; winning the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP or being voted onto the first or second postseason All-Star teams.

It's something GM Stan Bowman — and Blackhawks fans — has certainly been monitoring over the course of the year. But Panarin? Not so much.

"Actually, I don't think about this at all," Panarin said through an interpreter following Sunday's game. "I'm trying to play my best all the time and until yesterday I didn't know how many points I had. I was arguing a little bit with my grandpa over the phone and he started talking about points again. I don't think about that, so I'm not going to call him today."

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In his rookie year, Panarin ranked tied for ninth in the league with 77 points, which helped him trigger those bonuses and capture the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. 

While he's been through this before, it doesn't exactly make it any easier to deal with.

"Last season I didn’t really have a standard, I didn’t have a goal to reach," Panarin said. "So it was a little bit easier. This season I already know how many points I can get, so it’s a little bit harder to not focus on my points, but I’m trying."

With three games remaining on the schedule, Joel Quenneville will likely look to rest his top players for a game or two after capturing the division title and securing home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference players.

But he may handle Panarin's situation differently.

"I think sometimes you try to help the guys out in those type of situations if you can," Quenneville said of those chasing performance-based bonuses like Panarin. "You’re still playing games, you’re trying to win and sometimes the score dictates the ability to do that. We’ll play it accordingly and see how that plays out."

So while his grandpa and everyone else not named Panarin continue to keep tabs on the scoring race in the final week of the 2016-17 campaign, Panarin himself will continue trying to block out the distractions and focus on his on-ice play.

The rest will take care of itself.

"Personally for me, I think it's a little bit distracting," Panarin said. "I'm playing better whenever I get on the ice and I focus on goals, I try to shoot, and then the points come. If I get on the ice and think about my points, bad luck happens. I don’t want to think about it."

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."