For a while, Artem Anisimov didn’t have to deal with much change. He, Patrick Kane and fellow countryman Artemi Panarin clicked immediately after Anisimov was traded to the Blackhawks from Columbus, and with rare exception the three were together for the last two seasons.
Even with Panarin’s trade to the Blue Jackets, Anisimov was expected to remain as the team's second-line center with Kane. But a funny thing happened on the way to filling out the regular-season roster. Coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Nick Schmaltz’s offseason improvement and training camp, so Schmaltz, who spent part of the summer skating with Kane, took Anisimov’s spot. At least for now.
For those who have been with the Blackhawks several years, being part of the lineup blender is nothing new. For Anisimov, it is new. Still, after working with several potential new line mates, including Alex DeBrincat in the Blackhawks’ 1-0 victory over Boston on Saturday, Anisimov likes the possibilities on the third line.
Since camp began, Anisimov has centered Ryan Hartman on his right — John Hayden took that spot in the third period of Saturday’s preseason finale — and Patrick Sharp or DeBrincat on his left. What the combination ends up being when the Blackhawks open the regular season on Thursday remains to be seen, but regardless of his line mates, Anisimov hasn’t minded the changes.
“It’s been good, actually,” Anisimov said. “Every time it’s a challenge, you know? It’s hard to play without those two guys, but you have to adapt to situations and I can play with every player. I’ll try to do my best with any player on the team.”
While Anisimov’s line mates might be changing, his overall game shouldn’t.
“I’m sure he’ll get exposure to a lot of different guys over the course of the year, but he’s very adaptable to his line mates,” Quenneville said. “He does things that give him the best chance for success. He gets to the front of the net in the offensive zone, we like him down low in our end, he kills penalties, plays on the power play. His role won’t change. Expectations of being productive like he was, those will be tempered a little bit, but we still want him to keep playing the same way.”
Sharp started as Anisimov’s left wing before DeBrincat was moved there for Saturday’s preseason finale. Sharp said recently that Anisimov was a complete player, they read each other’s tendencies immediately and, “a guy like that, anybody can play with him.” Anisimov agreed he and Sharp clicked quickly.
“It was easy to play with him, and I know what he’s going to do,” he said. “That communication; you just see the guy and know what he’s going to do and you’re not hesitating to do something.”
Anisimov had two years of line stability. As Quenneville said, it was a “great way to start your career here.” But it’s not a Blackhawks team without a good amount of line juggling, and Anisimov will roll with the changes.
“Like some players, they take a little bit longer to adapt. But we’re all professionals and we just need to find the best side of the player and use his best side,” Anisimov said. “Just go out there and have fun.”