In midst of career season, Artem Anisimov still not satisfied with overall game

In midst of career season, Artem Anisimov still not satisfied with overall game

In terms of points this season, Artem Anisimov is closing in on some career numbers.

His goal against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night was his 22nd of the season, tying a career best set with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013-14. One more point and he'll equal his career best (44) in that department from 2010-11, when he was with the New York Rangers.

And all of this is with 20 games remaining in the regular season. So is this Anisimov's best career regular season?

"Ah, no," Anisimov said recently. "Close to it, but not good enough."

Anisimov would list a few things he still needs to improve upon – we'll get to that later – but even "close," Anisimov has had another strong season for the Blackhawks, once again centering Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. It's easy to focus on those two wings, given their dazzling play-making ability. But every line needs at least one blue-collar guy, the one who does more of the dirty work and perhaps takes the punishment in front of the net.

For the second consecutive season, that second-line guy is Anisimov, and his net-front play, especially, has led to more production this season.

"Arty's a smart player. He knows getting there, there [are] rewards for being around the net," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He finds his positioning. Sometimes he gets there at the right time and his arrival times are due to his anticipation with his wingers. [It's] the willingness; there's some abuse you have to take over the course of a regular season and it doesn't distract Arty from getting there."

Anisimov's game-winner against the Blues came the way so many others have this season: around the net. This one was off a slick pass from Panarin. Be it scoring goals like that, limiting a goaltender's vision or cleaning up rebounds, Anisimov's net-front presence has been steady. 

"He's coming up with pucks, gets those loose pucks to Kaner and Bread Man and they do their thing and create some magic there. Or you have Arty in front and you have Kaner and Bread doing their thing back and forth across the zone and you have that big body in front," Ryan Hartman said. "It makes it difficult, and not just when one of them are shooting. Sometimes the goalie can't see the pass because Arty's there and it's really deceptive and a big part of our team."

So the production has been there, no doubt. But where does Anisimov feel he's lacking?

"I just need to improve in all aspects: skating, back check, forecheck, stick position," Anisimov said. "All the little things have to be a little bit better."

Most players are never satisfied with where their games are. They're always looking to improve. Anisimov will keep working on what he thinks are some deficiencies but his constant net-front presence has filled what used to be an issue for the Blackhawks.

Why Patrick Kane, Blackhawks will want to play with Wyatt Kalynuk

Why Patrick Kane, Blackhawks will want to play with Wyatt Kalynuk

After reading newly-signed Blackhawks defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk was from Manitoba and hearing him described as serious and competitive, it was hard not to think of another member of the Hawks he may be sharing a locker room with soon.

"I would say that out of all the Badgers that I have interviewed, talked with and met in the last three years he seems to be the most stoic and (most) serious," Badgers rinkside reporter for Fox Sports Wisconsin Piper Shaw said of the blueliner, who spent the last three years at the University of Wisconsin.

On Thursday, the Blackhawks announced that they signed Kalynuk to a two-year contract beginning next season through 2021-22. He'll carry a cap hit of $925,000.

The 6'1, 189-pound D-man chose to forego his senior year in signing with the Blackhawks.

Players who signed entry-level contracts during the pause or ahead of the NHL's 24-team playoffs aren't eligible to participate in them. If Kalynuk joined the Hawks for Phase 3 training camp, he would have burned the first year of a contract.

"He's extremely hard-working and very competitive but I also always got the impression that he's very humble," Shaw added. "Obviously as the captain, I would do the most rinkside interviews with him typically. He's very hesitant to take credit for things that are going well and he's very quick to take the blame for things that could be going better."

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Much like how Jonathan Toews' teammates have tried to shake the captain's 24-hour game face, Kalynuk's squad has done the same to get a glimpse of a smile.

"Thinks he's Erik Karlsson and thinks Canada is good at everything," Shaw recalls former Badger teammate Sean Dhooghe saying while shooting a fun video for fans.

There do seem to be some initial similarities between Toews and Kalynuk in the way they conduct themselves as well as where they're from. Take away the trophy case fighting for its life while sporting achievements from the game's highest levels, and there's one major difference between the two: Toews is a forward and Kalynuk a defenseman.

And, according to those who've watched him play for the Badgers the past three years, quite the defenseman. 

As a junior, he served as the team's captain and power-play quarterback. He recorded 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 36 games with the Badgers last season and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. Additionally, the blueliner had had 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Wisconsin.

The Philadelphia Flyers had selected Kalynuk in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft, but he became a free agent after the Flyers failed to sign him during their period of exclusivity.

Tony Granato, whose brother Don is a former assistant coach with the Hawks, has been head coach of the Badgers since 2016. He's also been behind a decent amount of NHL benches, including the Avalanche's when he took over the team in 2008 after Joel Quenneville left.

Granato thinks the defenseman's skating ability could make him a valuable asset for the Blackhawks.

"He's very elusive," said Granato, who was an NHL forward for 13 years. "He's a guy that I think if you look at the Blackhawks' lineup, especially the skill upfront and the forwards upfront, they need guys from the backend that can not only get them the puck, but also get up in the play with them. 

"I see him as one of the players that Toews and Kane and the skill guys are going to say, 'I want to be on the ice with him,' because of the way he reads the game and he's able to support the play from a defenseman's standpoint. I think it's a great fit."

According to Granato, Kalynuk's offensive skill set won't hurt his chances of sticking with the Hawks either.

"His ability to get the puck through from the point, whether it be on the power play or in the offensive zone, is really innate," the coach said. "He's got that ability to know how to bypass the shot blocker's lane and get it through. That's a really important skill to have just from the standpoint that the game has become a shot-block league.

"You not only have one goalie, you have layers of shot blockers. And he has the ability at the back end to deliver the puck back to the forwards and that's what forwards want, they want guys that if you get it back to the point they know that either it's going to get to the net or it's going to get back down low. And he sees that part of the game and has a real good feel for that."

It's those offensive tools that have made him an effective power-play quarterback at the college level. But, could the Hawks give him a chance at taking the lead on the man advantage early on?

"At some point," Granato said. "Again, I think that the players he's going to play with will determine that and if they like being on the ice with him and they like the way he gets the puck through to the net and they like the way he gets the puck up on the ice in a breakout, he'll get that opportunity. I think those are his strengths. At this point, that's who's going to dictate whether he plays or not, the guys he's playing with. They're the ones that will find ways to get him on the ice and be on the ice with him."

Kalynuk's former coach thinks he's good to go at the NHL level whenever the Hawks want to give him the opportunity.

"I think he's ready," Granato said. "First of all, he's a smart kid. If he thought he needed another year to polish his skills up or needed to do something to give himself a better chance, he would have stayed in school. So I think he's ready for that. Will he need some seasoning in the minors? That depends on what Chicago sees in him and what they have in depth at the blue line next year. But I see him getting his opportunity and being ready for it and making the most of it. Again, I think it's a great addition to their organization and it's a perfect fit for both sides."

Blackhawks sign forward Pius Suter to one-year contract

Blackhawks sign forward Pius Suter to one-year contract

On Thursday, the Blackhawks announced the signing of forward Pius Suter to a one-year contract for next season. He'll carry a $925,000 cap hit.

Suter — 24 and a native of Zurich Switzerland — recorded 53 points (30 goals, 33 assists) in 50 games for ZSC Lions of Switzerland’s National League-A last season and was named league MVP. 

Related: Why Patrick Kane, Blackhawks will want to play with Wyatt Kalynuk

Over five seasons with ZSC Lions, Suter recorded 168 points (81 goals, 87 assists) in 210 regular-season games, 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 34 playoff contests and helped ZSC Lions to the 2017-18 NLA Championship. 

He also represented Switzerland in the 2018 Winter Olympics, picking up five points (3G, 2A) in four games.

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