Artemi Panarin out for redemption in 2023-24 season
Another playoff disappearance from Artemi Panarin will not be accepted by the Rangers nor the winger himself.
Panarin, who thrives in the regular season, will have something to prove in the 2023-24 playoffs –– assuming the Blueshirts make the cut –– following a less-than-productive seven games against the New Jersey Devils just over three months ago.
With two assists in Game 1 and a blank scoresheet for the next six contests, Panarin strung together his longest point drought since entering the NHL this postseason.
His 15 shots-on-goal through the entire series was evidently not enough.
Artemi Panarin out for redemption
To be clear, Panarin didn’t single-handedly lose that series. Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Kane and Vincent Trocheck were good for only one goal a piece, and 2020 first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere didn’t post a single point.
In the 2021-2022 playoffs when the Rangers weren’t supposed to win, they always found a way. This year, with the underdog mentality cast to the side, the squad froze and then collapsed.
Nonetheless, the Rangers need more from their star left-winger, and Panarin no doubt expects more from himself.
The 31-year-old is entering the upcoming season with a different look, namely, his newly bald head. And while jokes have been made of Panarin shedding his locks to change his hockey juju, it might be exactly what he needs.
Panarin’s playoff struggles are primarily mental.
It’s not that he’s not trying –– it’s that he’s trying too hard. You could see him overthink each play made as he shrunk into a smaller and smaller version of the top-six staple he’s known to be throughout the year.
Panarin has led the Rangers in regular season points since he signed his seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the club in July 2019.
He’s an irreplaceable force, logging 29 goals and 63 assists in 82 games before the first-round meltdown against the cross-river rivals.
Panarin, to state the obvious, makes the Rangers a better team, and they cannot and will not reach the ultimate goal if he’s not going.
Panarin is the Rangers best offensive weapon
No one on the roster, or arguably in the league, can emulate Panarin’s crafty playmaking ability, sharpshooting or silky mitts. When he’s on his game, Panarin is simply having fun. He’s a hockey player because he loves the sport and it’s incredibly evident in his loose and spirited style –– but that gets lost come playoffs.
Maybe it’s the pressure, the stakes, the expectations that are tacked onto not only the team but Panarin specifically come April. But at this point, it’s time to get over whatever mental hurtle there is and start putting the puck in the back of the net.
The forward will need to learn to make adjustments both mentally and physically to find postseason success. The things Panarin can do with the puck when he has space are fun to watch. But the Devils smothered the Rangers offense, and in hand, Panarin’s creativity and confidence.
It seemed when things weren’t working, Panarin panicked instead of pivoting.
As long as the rebuild seemed to take, the Rangers’ window for glory is already slowly closing and the urgency around a playoff push has become all that more apparent in and outside of that locker room.
No one is questioning Panarin’s talent, but in the famous last words of former head coach Gerard Gallant, “talent doesn’t mean a thing” if the team work and production is not also there.
On paper, the Rangers roster, especially after the trade deadline, looked to have threatening depth. But, similarly, depth only works if your top players are, well, playing.
Chris Kreider recently said he thinks the Rangers will have a chip on their shoulders this season. Panarin should have two chips.
While four-goal nights and shootout snipes are good for the regular season highlight reel, it all counts to nothing if your team is bounced from the first-round with a star-studded lineup.
Entering his ninth season in the NHL, Panarin is tasked with digging deep and finding a new level of his game. A Stanley Cup in New York may very well depend on it.