Before hockey season started in October, I did a quick run through of the profiles of the new Blackhawks players. The player that stuck out the most to me was former KHL (the Russian version of the NHL) star Artemi Panarin. He played for SKA Saint Petersburg for three seasons from 2012 to 2015, and was destined for success in the NHL.
I’m not going to lie, what caught my attention first wasn’t the statistics—it was that he played in Saint Petersburg (ask anyone who knows me well, Saint Petersburg is my dream city). As an aspiring historian of Imperial Russia, a player who used to play for the former empire’s capital was a dream come true. I felt like two of my favorite things in the world were coming together.
Panarin made his NHL debut four months ago, and exceeded everyone’s incredibly high expectations. At only 24, it seems he is destined to be ranked among not only the best Russian-born players in the NHL, but possibly one of the best players overall by the time he retires. Leading the rookies in the NHL with the most points at 54, 16 above second place, is Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, who “The Hockey News” dubbed “The Next Jonathan Toews” in their rookie issue. Panarin is a legend in the making, and here are five things every Blackhawks fan should know about the new rising star of the team.
1. He was one of the most sought after players for the 2015-2016 season.
According to ESPN, Panarin “got looks from more than half the league and received strong interest from six teams” before ultimately signing with Chicago in April 2015. Panarin stood out to Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman, who went out of his way to sign him after witnessing his stellar career in the KHL. Chicago got lucky, and the rest is history in the making.
2. Franchise history shows that rookies with this kind of success have promising careers.
Panarin’s rookie season isn’t even over yet, but it didn’t take long for his season to be compared to rookie seasons of some of the greatest Blackhawks. Panarin scored his first NHL goal in his first shot in his first game; the last Blackhawk to achieve this impressive statistic was Jonathan Toews. Panarin also leads all NHL rookies in goals, assists and overall points, making him the top contender for the Calder trophy. The last Blackhawk to win the Calder trophy was Patrick Kane (although former Blackhawk Brandon Saad got extremely close to snagging the trophy during his rookie year three seasons ago). Needless to say, having comparisons to two of the most successful players in franchise history, as well as the NHL right now, is something to brag about.
3. When he arrived in Chicago in August, he didn’t know a lick of English.
English and Russian are among two of the hardest languages to learn, and a native Russian speaker learning English is incredibly difficult. Luckily for Panarin, he was able to find a Russian-born family in Chicago to help him transition into American life and has become incredibly attached to the family in the past few months. At the start of the season, Panarin had teammate Viktor Tikhonov translate for him before he was transferred to play for Arizona in December. Panarin receives English lessons via Skype and is improving day by day, starting to communicate with teammates, especially line mate Patrick Kane.
4. His on-ice chemistry with Patrick Kane is incomparable.
It is no secret that Panarin works well with Kane on the ice. With Panarin as top contender for the Calder and Kane for the Hart, it is obvious that both players would not be having successful seasons without each other as line mates. After facing personal legal troubles in the summer that extended to the first few weeks of the season, Kane’s historic 26 game point streak can be easily seen as a comeback from months of public scrutiny. It can be easily argued that without Panarin, Kane would not have achieved the longest streak record among not only American-born players but Blackhawks overall. The two have helped each other achieve record-breaking seasons, making the two incomparable when it comes to hockey duos.
5. He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Panarin’s entry-level contract only takes him through the 2016-2017 season, and he is no doubt on the radar of many NHL teams due to his incredible rookie year performance. Luckily, Blackhawks' general manager, Stan Bowman, has taken note and plans to sign Panarin to a longer contract at the end of the 2015-2016 season in order to ensure Panarin will be in Chicago for a long time coming, no doubt a huge relief to every Chicago Blackhawks fan.