Artemiy Panarin: The Breadman Delivers for the Rangers
I was wrong!
I admit it, I was wrong!
When rumors started to swirl in early 2019 about then-Columbus Blue Jacket Artemi Panarin’s desire to ditch small town Midwestern life in Ohio’s state capital and take his immense talents to the Big Apple once he hit the free agent market, I was quite skeptical. Sure, Panarin’s resume was impressive, winning the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year in 2016 and averaging a point-per-game during his four year NHL career. But, as a card carrying and often times jaded member of Rangerstown for over 40 years, I’ve been down this route before. I have read the all too familiar script…
So Many Saviors
I’ve felt the excitement. I’ve experienced the euphoria. I’ve seen the press conferences. I watched the Rangers savior du jour pulling that beautiful red, white and blue jersey over their head and passed their shoulders, holding up both arms while grinning from ear to ear. I was told by whomever the general manager was sitting at the dais, that the Rangers had “found their man.” I saw a gleaming, giddy head coach, sitting next to his prized, elite acquisition. The redundancy and repetition of the Rangers announcing their annual summer free agent “coup” became tiresome. The constant letdown of said prized free agent fizzling before my very eyes made me weary, leery and skittish of future transactions.
I mean, ever since the NHLPA’s Free Agent Emancipation in the mid 1990s, more than any other NHL franchise, the Rangers have been at, or near, the front of the line in regards to offering lucrative contracts to, and subsequently signing, big named free agents. And, in almost every case, the highly sought after player did not live up to the lofty expectations. Wayne Gretzky’s turn-back-the-clock season of 1996-97 and Marian Gaborik’s two 40-goal seasons in a three year span are the exceptions and the only true free agent success stories. While Gretzky and Gaborik are two of the few to flourish on Broadway, the laundry list of unmitigated disastrous free agent signings is quite extensive.
The Garden Faithful is well aware of the names that have become synonymous with free agent flopping: Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, Bobby, Holik, Ales Kotalik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Val Kamensky, et al. My goodness, I could literally fill this entire space with one mercenary after another who seemed to stop caring about hockey once they signed on the dotted and started to collect those inflated paychecks. It’s safe to say that the collectively bargained buyout clause saved the Ranger organization almost as often as Henrik Lundqvist has since the stipulation was agreed to prior to the 2005-06 season.
Panarin is Different
So, I ask, why would Panarin be different? Why would the “Breadman” deliver the goods when countless others before him failed? How would Panarin avoid getting swallowed up in the bright lights of the big city and resist the myriad of distractions and temptations that New York City is known for? How could I be convinced that Artemi Panarin would NOT eventually become the next member of the Rangers unceremonious group that I call the “Buyout Club?
We sit here during the Rangers post All-Star game bye-week reflecting on what is almost certain to be a third consecutive playoff-less spring at the World’s Most Famous Arena. As the franchise prepares for another trade deadline roster purge in a few weeks, Blueshirt fans and the entire organization can rest easy knowing that better days are assuredly ahead. The chief reason for our newfound optimism is the simple fact that Artemi Panarin chose to become a New York Ranger in July of 2019.
Only twice in my decades of Ranger allegiance have I witnessed a season on the level of greatness that Panarin has been exuding. Only Mark Messier’s Hart Trophy winning season of 1991-92 and Jaromir Jagr’s record setting season of 2005-06 can eclipse what #10 has displayed ever since his one goal and one assist performance kicked off his Ranger career on opening night against Winnipeg back in October.
While it is unlikely that Panarin will surpass any single season scoring record for the Rangers in 2019-20, the odds are quite good that he will become just the 7th player in team history to score 100 points in a season joining Messier, Jagr, Brian Leetch, Vic Hadfield Mike Rogers and Jean Ratelle.
Panarin’s greatness is felt up and down the lineup. He has single handily resurrected the career of former Islander top prospect and Oiler cast off Ryan Strome while transforming the perpetual 4th-line forward Jesper Fast into a top-6 winger. To add, there is, undoubtedly, a direct correlation between Panarin’s offensive prowess and the Rangers blue-line being among the league leaders in total points. Panarin’s vision and hockey sense are, dare I say, Gretzky-like. His ability to play the game a few moves ahead of his defenders is tantamount to an astronomer looking at the stars through the Hubble telescope while the opponent is using binoculars bought from Dollar Tree.
Panarin is special. Panarin is a revelation. Panarin is without question, the best unrestricted free agent signing in team history and as the young kids like Kakko, Chytil, Kravtsov and Fox develop into bonafide NHL players, logic dictates the legend of Artemi Panarin will continue to grow. We will surely see more Rockettes-style leg kicks in coming years as the team, as a whole, matures and improves. Boy, was I wrong all right and I am ecstatic about that!