Artemi Panarin’s hot start puts him in Hart Trophy contention

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

When was the last time a New York Ranger won the Hart Trophy, the NHL’s award for most valuable player, and who was the winner?

The list of Blueshirts to have won it over the team’s 97-year history is short — only four players. The last to have won it was in the 1991-1992 season, and it was Mark Messier. Prior to that, it had been won in the 1940s and 1950s by Buddy O’Connor, Chuck Rayner, and Andy Bathgate.

But with the way Artemi Panarin is playing this season, if he keeps it up, he just may just become the fifth Ranger to win MVP honors.

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Artemi Panarin offense machine

NHL: San Jose Sharks at New York Rangers
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When the Rangers signed Artemi Panarin in July 2019 for seven years and to an $81,500,000 contract, they knew they were adding an elite forward who could dominate play for them for a long time to come. Panarin had success with the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets, playing on multiple playoff teams, and slotted in easily at left wing when the only other left wing New York was counting on for the top six was Chris Kreider.

And during the regular season with the Blueshirts, Panarin has easily proven himself to be the successful point scorer they had been banking on, although his strong pass-first approach has always led to more assists than goals when he’s earned 95, 58 (pandemic year), 96, and 92 points respectively over the past four years. In general, the Breadman has typically had about 60-70% more assists than goals since joining the Rangers. That percentage is up slightly from his previous NHL years, in which he’d overall had more goals as a proportion of his points than in recent years.

Well, this season, that seems to have changed. The 32-year-old made up his mind over the summer, coming into the current season, that he was going to revert to a more aggressive attitude on the ice and to become more of a shoot-first player once again. And it is working — so far better than the Blueshirts and their fans could have hoped.

Panarin’s sparkling season

Panarin has been driving play on the second Rangers line and igniting both the confidence and the play of Alexis Lafreniere, which was a much needed evolution for the first overall draft pick from 2020. Earlier in the season, the Breadman was also working well with Filip Chytil, who has now been out with an upper body injury for over a month. Replacing Chytil on the second line has been Vincent Trocheck, who almost magically seems to be working like butter with Bread — when that didn’t seem the case last season at all.

The second line has been the most productive for the Rangers this season, in large part due to Panarin’s goal scoring and assists of others in their scoring. In 24 games played so far, the left wing has 16 goals and 21 assists, for a total of 37 points. That does include four power play goals, in which the Breadman plays on the first unit and has at times dominated the man advantage.

At the beginning of the 2023-2024 campaign we asked the question of whether Panarin could hit 100 points for the first time in his NHL career this season. It’s actually beginning to look possible.

Even in games in which the Rangers haven’t looked their sharpest, Panarin has somehow managed to find a way to score. He has said he took last year’s loss to the Devils in the first round of the playoffs very much to heart, and, as mentioned above, he was determined to come back more focused and aggressive than ever this year. And the numbers speak for themselves.

Panarin a force in the NHL

According to NHL Edge, here are some of the 32-year-old left winger’s ranks in the league to date:

PanarinLeague AvgPercentile
Skating Distance (mi)74.2745.7288
Top Shot Speed (mph)87.4384.2453
Shots on Goal963599
Shooting %16.7%10.4%88
Off. Zone Time (ES)45.0%40.4%95
Source: NHL Edge

These stats certainly seem respectable enough to include Artemi Panarin in the Hart conversation, though there is yet much hockey left to play this season. Especially if the Breadman hits 100 points by season’s end, we may very well see him contend, perhaps as a front-runner, for the MVP trophy. And wouldn’t it be nice to see the Rangers bring home the Hart again after over 30 years?

Mika Zibanejad, who’s had a front row seat to Panarin’s play for over four years now, was asked about the forward after the Rangers’ loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night: “Yes and no,” Zibanejad responded when asked if this is the best he’s seen Panarin play since his arrival on Broadway.

“He keeps — I don’t know how because of the level he’s shown and the type of player he is — surprising us with the way he plays. The first — what was it a 15-game point streak — to start off the season and the way he was playing last game. I think it’s just the way he’s creating, the way he’s playing, the way he’s working, that’s something that I think is maybe to another level of what he’s done in the past. But it’s still Arty being Arty.”

Per VegasInsder, here are the current odds for the Hart Trophy (12/8):

  • Connor McDavid +400
  • David Pastrnak +500
  • Jack Hughes +500
  • Nikita Kucherov +650
  • Auston Matthews +700
  • Elias Pettersson +900
  • Artemi Panarin +1500
  • Nathan MacKinnon +2000
  • Leon Draisaitl +2000

Deborah Seymour grew up in New York City and studied in the City University of New York system for... More about Deborah Seymour

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