Can Artemi Panarin crack the 100 point mark this season with New York Rangers?
If there’s one aspect of the season at which Artemi Panarin has excelled since joining the New York Rangers via free agent signing in July 2019, it’s almost singlehandedly amassing enough points to help propel the Big Apple team to the postseason.
Despite not technically making the playoffs in 2020, after the pandemic-shortened season, the Blueshirts did make the play-in round in the Toronto “bubble.” Though the team was ousted in a three-game sweep by the Carolina Hurricanes, Panarin had scored 95 points that year — good enough to both help send his new team to the qualifying series and to come in third in Hart Trophy voting.
The now 31-year-old left winger scored 58 points over 42 games in the 56-game 2020-2021 season (an even more drastically truncated competition due to the pandemic); but he had to take personal leave for a chunk of the games played and the Rangers missed the playoffs that year, coming in fifth in their division.
In the ensuing two seasons, however, Panarin has been a major force in accruing sufficient points over an 82-game span to get the Blueshirts to the playoffs, earning 96 points in 2021-2022 and 92 points in 2022-2023, respectively.
Less East-West for Artemi Panarin?
However, as many have noted, the points simply do not seem to come in the postseason for the top-six left winger the way they do in the regular season. It’s almost like some vital switch gets flipped off, and the ability to pass and shoot in a productive manner departs Panarin’s game. As he’s confessed, he’s left rather dumbfounded as to why he just can’t appear to keep up his usual torrid pace of accumulating points.
As quoted by lohud of USA Today Sports in September, remarked Panarin: “There’s no way you can forget it that easily. It’s probably only hockey that will help me. If I start playing (well), I’ll start feeling good.”
Panarin is primarily an east-west, pass-first style player; and, as Rangers fans have seen over recent years, what seems to win playoff games in this decade is strong north-south play and shooting off the rush. Generalizing from the playoffs back into the regular season, many of the teams with the highest scoring forwards play this style of hockey all season long.
“In general, I’d like to take it more down the ice as opposed to across the ice… Just playing a bit more north,” as stated head coach Peter Laviolette after a preseason defeat to the Boston Bruins last week.
As Panarin goes, so do the Rangers go. When the Blueshirts’ shooting becomes less aggressive and the passing game takes over, and the play style is too skills-based to generate the rush, there are games the team finds challenging to win. The veteran left winger is at his best when he chooses the best chances on which to pass, and the most optimal ones on which to shoot. For his career, he has 56 power play goals to 160 even strength goals, and 139 power play assists to 306 even strength assists. For the 31-year-old to succeed, he needs his skillful passes to be converted into goals; and for that reason, matching Panarin with the right line mates has been a significant focus for the Rangers.
What may change this season for Panarin, and why
The veteran player has had different linemates at different times in New York, and it can be concluded that he was at his most productive when his line was centered by Ryan Strome, now with the Anaheim Ducks. Since Strome, Panarin has played primarily with Vincent Trocheck — but also Mika Zibanejad and Filip Chytil — as his center, and that’s without even listing the host of players who’ve played right wing on his line over the past couple of years (including Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, both brought in at the trade deadline last season for a short stint).
General manager Chris Drury’s goal when acquiring Trocheck, it’s pretty clear, was for the now 30-year-old to replace Ryan Strome on Panarin’s forward line. Yet despite the Breadman still putting up his usual over 90 points last season, it’s not clear the best chemistry for his game is with Trocheck, and it seems under Laviolette the left winger will be beginning the season centered by Filip Chytil, who himself has now earned a spot in the top-six.
The other major change for Panarin is the system under which he’ll now have to play. Laviolette brings a specific system to the Rangers with which he’s been very successful over his career, and even in the preseason, as alluded to above, he’s made it clear he intends to stick to it. The offensive portion of the system is much more north-south oriented and less east-west oriented than has been the Breadman’s game in the past; and although there may be early growing pains, the entire team is going to have to try to be consistent in this north-south style, as well as in the two-way offense-defense the veteran head coach demands from his players.
If being centered by Chytil works better for Panarin than did the almost revolving door of centers, he saw toward the end of last season, and if Chytil remains healthy, given a rather lengthy history of injury, playing in this new system may benefit the veteran left winger to the point of cracking the 100-point barrier. He’s shown the talent, and he’s earned over 90 points in three of the last four seasons. He’s not that far off from the 100-point mark, and given the right line mates and a more aggressive system under which to excel — and if the Rangers as a team can productively use their power play opportunities — Panarin just might get there.