Marian Hossa watched some of the World Championships last May after the Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild. That’s when he got his first glimpse of Artemi Panarin.
“I saw this kid playing Slovakia, and he was just dominating. So I watched another game, and he was dominating again,” Hossa said. “One of the players was fun to watch, and when I heard he was coming to Chicago I was like, ‘Can’t wait for this guy.’ And he didn’t disappoint at all. He just picked up where he left off from what I saw on the TV screen.”
Panarin definitely didn’t disappoint in his first NHL season, bolstering the Blackhawks’ offense with his 77 points. Joining Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, Panarin was part of the Blackhawks’ most consistent line of the season.
General manager Stan Bowman anticipated Panarin adapting to the North American style but admitted he didn’t expect 77 points.
“We had hoped that he would come in here and be an offensive player. In watching his style of play and watching his performance over the last couple years in the KHL, we knew that he had a chance to be an offensive player. Whether he's going to find chemistry or whether he's going to be effective throughout a full season, I didn't expect him to be as good as he was,” Bowman said at the Blackhawks’ closing meetings on Wednesday. “These are the great surprises you have, when he comes in and does something that's sort of unheard of for a first year player. So, that was obviously a big reason for our team's success. He came in, and he gave us a lot offensive production, which we clearly needed.”
For Panarin, his first NHL season was certainly a memorable one.
“I was very happy just to play for Blackhawks,” Panarin said through interpreter Stan Stiopkin. “This is a first-class organization, general manager, coaches, players and the players helping me a lot. It was like a good group of players, and I feel comfortable. I’m really happy to be in Chicago because this is probably the best city in the world.”
Panarin and Kane clicked immediately on the ice. It certainly helped to have fellow Russian Anisimov there, too, especially after Panarin’s good friend/former St. Petersburg teammate Viktor Tikhonov was waived and picked up by Arizona. It was rare when the trio were separated. For coach Joel Quenneville, there was no reason to do so: The line’s consistency and production was tough to beat.
“He came in here as a great story for us, knowing that we got to sign a potentially special player and live through it with all the hype surrounding him and delivered in every which way. He was a special player,” Quenneville said of Panarin. “I loved his consistency. I loved the way he enjoys the game. Liked is progression over the course of the season, though he got a lot more attention as the season progressed.”
Yes, teams started focusing on Panarin that much more as the season continued. And Anisimov said that’s why Panarin has to bring even more in his sophomore season here.
“He can do a lot more,” he said. “This was the first season for him, and he adapted. But for the next season he needs to improve his game to another level because everybody’s going to be prepared for him. He showed his potential, and he needs to be better.”
Panarin said that he will play for Team Russia in the upcoming World Championships. He said there are a few things he needs to improve upon entering the fall of 2016 — “ confidence, playing 1-on-1 in the attacking zone,” he said. His first season here, however, was a great one. Hossa was right: What he saw from Panarin on TV translated onto the NHL ice.
“It was just fun to watch him. And he and Kane were so dynamic and so much fun to watch,” Hossa said. “What a season they had.”