Rangers’ Artemi Panarin possesses perfect skillset for modern NHL


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SUNRISE, Fla. — It was about 10 minutes after Artemi Panarin had left the room, and in response to a question that did not make mention of the Rangers’ winger, when Linus Ullmark offered what might have been the most prescient analysis of why Panarin’s skill-set is such a good fit for the game today. 

“I think the game in itself has changed, yes. There’s a whole different aspect of how you’re going to build a team nowadays than how it was before,” said Ullmark, the goaltender for the Bruins. “When I came in and got my first taste, it was a little bit — I shouldn’t say it was easier, because it wasn’t. Some games were easier and some players were easier. 

“Nowadays you have, all the guys that are here are skill guys. Not just three, not just your top guys are skill guys. You have nine guys, your top nine are skills. And there’s a lot of speed. That’s where the game is right now. I think that’s the biggest change of all my years here.” 

Skill and speed and speed and skill. That’s where the NHL is. And that’s where Panarin, who has 12 goals and 38 assists with the Rangers this season, most excels. 

Artemi Panarin competes in the skills competition on Feb. 3.
Getty Images

Saturday will be the first time Panarin participates in an All-Star Game, though he was voted into the 2020 edition, but replaced after suffering an injury. He is one of three Rangers who made the trip to South Florida, along with Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin

“It’s special,” Panarin said through an interpreter. 

Panarin, who uses an interpreter in group settings, did momentarily switch to English once during a brief session with reporters. That was when he was asked to assess his shooting accuracy ahead of participating in that event during the skills competition. 

“I have 13 goals,” Panarin said, off by one in the count. “Not good. I don’t know why they put me there.” 

Panarin’s levity also came through when he was asked about the slew of Russians at the All-Star Game, including one of his teammates, Shesterkin. 

“We were on the bus today. There’s only Russians on the bus and one Canadian, [Sidney] Crosby and a couple of Americans,” he said. “So hopefully very soon, everybody will like each other.” 

Artemi Panarin, left, and Adam Fox at All-Star weekend.
Artemi Panarin, left, and Adam Fox at All-Star weekend.
NHLI via Getty Images

Artemi Panarin competes in the skills competition on Feb. 3.
Artemi Panarin competes in the skills competition on Feb. 3.
Getty Images

As it relates to the skills competition, the organizers might have put Panarin in the shooting-accuracy challenge because there isn’t an event that pays tribute to what he is best at: eluding defenders with the puck on his stick and creating for his linemates. More than ever, though, the NHL is a league that values those skills. 

“Just how he drives plays,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said, asked about Panarin. “Like a centerman that plays left wing, usually he plays his off wing [as a right-handed shot] and just his ability to make those around him better, because he draws one or two players to him and always finds the right person at the right time.” 

In the run-up to the All-Star break, the Rangers trotted out a top-heavy first line that paired Panarin with Mika Zibanejad, hoping it would help paper over the chemistry issues Panarin had with Vincent Trocheck

Artemi Panarin
Artemi Panarin’s skillset is perfect for the modern NHL.
NHLI via Getty Images

The results have been decidedly mixed, with Panarin and Zibanejad outsourcing opposition 2-0 on the ice over 45:46 since the New Year, but with a 34.87 expected goals percentage, indicating most chances have gone the other way. 

“He’s a luxury player and [I’m] happy to play with him,” Panarin said of Zibanejad. “Last couple games, maybe [we] didn’t score enough, but the future is bright.”

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