On Day Two of the new training camp during the dog days of summer, Artemi Panarin is the story. The very successful 28-year old Russian left wing, who was on his way to 40 goals and 100 points prior to the Coronavirus interrupting play, was nominated by his peers for a prestigious award.
The NHL made it official by listing Panarin as one of three candidates for the Ted Lindsay Award. Formerly the Lester B. Pearson as voted by players on who they feel to be the Most Valuable Player, it recognizes what his peers think about his season. Joining Panarin is Art Ross winner is Hart favorite Leon Draisaitl and superstar Nathan MacKinnon.
You can’t argue with any of the choices. This trio are the most deserving for the Lindsay and probably will also be nominated for the Hart Trophy as official league MVP. I expect Draisaitl to win due to his astonishing season where he paced all scorers with 110 points including a league high 67 assists with 43 goals. He had 16 power play goals to finish second behind David Pastrnak, who could be up for the Hart as well. His 48 goals tied for the league lead with Alex Ovechkin and his 95 points were third most, tying with Panarin.
The Bread Man was outstanding in his first season as a Blueshirt. His 32 goals trailed only Mika Zibanejad (41) while he paced the team in assists (63) and points (95). Panarin proved how dominant he can be at even strength. Mostly separated from Zibanejad, he worked with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast to form a cohesive trio that controlled puck possession at five-on-five and did damage. In fact, no forward ranked higher than Panarin in plus-minus (36). Only Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves ranked higher with a plus-40 rating. To think the Rangers gave him away without looking at him.
Panarin led all skaters in even strength points with 71 (25-46-71). Despite being a weapon on the power play where he went 7-17-24, he produced most of his magic at five-on-five. Even better, the Bread Man didn’t rely on just the friendly home ice of Madison Square Garden. His home/road splits are almost identical. Of his 95 total points, 50 (15-35-50) came at MSG. On the road, he put up 45 (17-28-45) along with a plus-22. That means he was plus-14 at home.
It signifies how tough it was for opponents to shut him down despite having favorable match-ups due to the final change. That’s when you realize you have a special player. Panarin wanted the big stage and he’s delivered. Though we’ll never know if the Rangers would’ve qualified for the true postseason over a full 82 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were right there in large part due to their meal ticket.
Look how well Strome performed while with Panarin. He set a new career best in points (59) and plus/minus (21) while ranking third in team scoring behind the Bread Man (95) and Zibanejad (75). The chemistry the restricted free agent center formed with Panarin allowed coach David Quinn to have Zibanejad reunite with KZB line members Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. It gave the Blueshirts better balance with valuable two-way forward Fast able to be plugged in on the second line. He had 29 points (12-27-29) and was on pace for new career highs across the board. He notched the first two shorthanded goals of his seven-year career. That included a career best plus-16. The 28-year old Fast is unrestricted this October.
By adding Panarin last summer, both Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton dramatically improved the team. A unselfish player who controls the puck so well and possesses superb vision, he had splendid chemistry with leading scoring defenseman Tony DeAngelo. DeAngelo achieved new personal bests in goals (15), assists (38), points (53), games played (68) and power play points (3-19-22). At 24, the Sewell, New Jersey native has finally demonstrated why he was a first round pick for the Lightning. He’s backed up a career high 30 point season with a huge breakout in a contract year. A RFA like Strome, he won’t be cheap this Fall.
One of the smartest things Quinn did was play DeAngelo as much as possible with Panarin. Especially on the power play that prominently features Zibanejad, Kreider and Strome. A good skater with a accurate shot to go with excellent passing capabilities, he worked well on the top unit. Highlights included his first career hat trick versus the Devils at home. It also featured a smart back pass to Panarin, who sent Zibanejad in alone on Ilya Samsonov for his fifth goal in a wild 6-5 overtime win at The Garden.
When I think of my favorite Panarin moment, it’s not a goal. It’s the sheer hustle and determination along with the wherewithal to make a terrific back pass for a streaking Zibanejad to blast a one-timer past Semyon Varlamov for an OT winner in a big 4-3 road win over the Islanders in an exciting game at Nassau Coliseum.
That was unreal. It speaks to the hockey IQ of the Bread Man. A player who not only has the skill, but the will to thrill hockey fans in this area. That never say die attitude is what makes him such a fan favorite. He is worth every penny of the long-term contract that averages out to $11.64 million per season through 2026. Astonishingly, it now looks like a bargain.
As we inch closer to Game One of the best of five preliminary series with the Hurricanes that begins on August 1, Panarin will be front and center. I don’t worry about him. He wants to be the man like so few who have come here. The best examples that come to mind are Jaromir Jagr and Henrik Lundqvist, who took Manhattan by storm despite being a homegrown product selected in the seventh round back in 2000. Eric Lindros would’ve been successful if not for injuries. Ditto Pavel Bure. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards had good success on Broadway, providing some memorable moments along with Marty St. Louis, who came over after Gaborik was gone.
If anyone deserves to be recognized by his peers that included high praise coning from MacKinnon, it’s Panarin. He may not win the Hart, but deserves the Lindsay as voted on by the players. That would be fitting.
As for camp, all three netminders are getting similar reps. Igor Shesterkin is expected to be the starter for the upcoming series to make the real Big Dance. Barring something unforeseen, it is his job to lose. How Quinn plays it along with valuable goalie coach Benoit Allaire will be interesting to see. Will Lundqvist be the backup over Alex Georgiev? It’s too early to say.
Included in the camp is defenseman Brandon Crawley. Taken as an overager in the fourth round of 2017, the 23-year old Glen Rock, New Jersey native took a step back in his third pro year. He only played in nine games for the Wolf Pack while posting a dozen points in 38 contests for the ECHL Maine Mariners.
As expected, both Libor Hajek and former first round pick K’Andre Miller practiced. Miller is signed, but cannot participate in the postseason. Similar to recently signed top Islanders Russian goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin, who agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract on Monday. He’ll be 25 when he finally makes his NHL debut for the Isles. Interestingly, the rivalry will be renewed up North with a tuneup in Ottawa.
NHL teams are allowed to sign players. But they cannot take part in the expanded Stanley Cup Tournament. The Wild also just signed Kirill Kaprizov today. A 23-year old former fifth round pick who was a high scoring forward for CSKA Moscow in the KHL. Wild reporter Sarah McLellan has more on that situation.
As for Panarin, he is all smiles now that he’s back at work.
The interviews will all be via Zoom due to the circumstances. Kreider provided some great answers regarding how the practices have been and what the mindset is entering this unique playoffs. He reiterated what Zibanejad said the previous day. They’re in it to win it.
The new Rangers hashtag is #NoQuitInNY. Why not them? I’ll have more coming up this week.