Artemi Panarin seeks playoff redemption after career season with Rangers (2024)

NEW YORK — After the Rangers’ final game of the regular season, one in which Artemi Panarin once again played a key role in a winning effort, the superstar winger told reporters he feels the same as he did going into the 2023 playoffs. He then paused for a moment and let out a chuckle.

“It sounds not great,” he continued. “If I feel the same, does it mean I play the same? I hope not.”


Panarin is the Rangers’ best offensive player and has been the team’s most successful free-agent signing of the cap era. But the last postseason is a stain on his resume. He had only two assists in a seven-game first-round loss to the Devils. He failed to log a point in the last six games of the series.

The 32-year-old Russian did everything he could this season to put those postseason shortcomings behind him. After clashing with former Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, he put up a career-high 49 goals and 120 points under Peter Laviolette, earning the team MVP award.

That’s all impressive. The real test, though, begins this weekend when the Rangers take on Washington in the first round. Panarin knows the stakes, perhaps more than anyone.

“Everything important is in the playoffs,” he told The Athletic recently.

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If he delivers and the Rangers go on a run, he’ll go down as a franchise great. If New York wins its first Stanley Cup since 1994, he’ll be a candidate to have his number retired and could even be on a Hockey Hall of Fame trajectory. But if the team has another untimely exit and Panarin again struggles in the most important games, that will be part of his legacy, too.

Panarin tries not to think about his place in Rangers history but said he can’t ignore when his name is mentioned alongside the likes of Jaromir Jagr. This year, he became the first Rangers player since Jagr to have 100 points in a season, and he nearly caught the Hall of Famer for the franchise season points record (123). Most importantly for the Rangers, Panarin’s gaudy numbers have correlated with winning. New York captured the Presidents’ Trophy with a franchise record 55 victories.

“When you play good, the team’s winning, your day off is much better,” Panarin said. “It’s a drug for me.”

Patrick Kane first remembers watching on TV as Panarin played for Russia during the 2015 World Championships. Kane and Marian Hossa, teammates with Chicago at the time, were amazed at what they saw. Panarin had already signed with the Blackhawks for the next year, and they realized he might be someone who could make an immediate impact.


When Panarin arrived in North America as a 23-year-old in the fall of 2015, he and Kane jelled immediately. “That instant chemistry is something I’ve never really had before,” said Kane, now with the Detroit Red Wings. The two went to dinners together, often with teammate Artem Anisimov, who helped bridge the language barrier. When it was just Kane and Panarin, the latter used Google Translate for help, and sometimes Kane tried to talk in a Russian accent to help his teammate understand.

“Hockey is definitely a universal language,” said Kane, who reunited with Panarin in New York for the second half of the 2022-23 season. “You never really know how those kind of conversations would go when there’s such a language barrier, but we found a way to make it work.”

Playing with Panarin in Chicago, Kane was impressed by how well his teammate saw the game and how comfortable he was controlling possession. Nowadays, Kane believes, only Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov matches his poise with the puck.

Artemi Panarin seeks playoff redemption after career season with Rangers (2)

Artemi Panarin raises his arm after scoring a goal against Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev during a shootout. (AP Photo / David Zalubowski)

In 2017, Chicago traded Panarin to the Blue Jackets in a regrettable deal after getting swept in the first round. In Columbus, he played under coach John Tortorella, who recently raved about the winger. He remembers urging a young Oliver Bjorkstrand to watch the way Panarin battled for pucks. Panarin is a true hockey player who comes with zero maintenance, Tortorella said.

“As I always say about (Panarin), he is the best player in the league playing tired because he extends shifts all the time,” added Tortorella, now the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. “That’s the type of will he has.”

Added Laviolette: “He comes back to the bench and he’s completely gassed. He gives it all every shift.”

Panarin didn’t know what to point to when asked why he’s able to play so well at the end of shifts. He works hard on cardio in the offseason, he said, so that likely plays a role. Kane pointed to other factors, too.

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“He can always play with that patience and poise and slow down the game to the point where he’s not exerting as much energy,” Kane said. “Very rarely do you see him take hard strides. He’s always crossing over, he’s always moving, he’s always finding a way to create time and space for himself.”

Perhaps the biggest change in Panarin’s game this season is his goal scoring. He blew past his previous career high of 32 goals, set in 2019-20, and has taken 303 shots, 75 more shots than his previous high (2017-18 with Columbus). Kane has seen a more aggressive, shoot-first mentality, though his old teammate has managed to retain his ability to set others up, too.


Since Panarin came into the league, only Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon and Kucherov have more points. This year features career-best numbers, but it’s no fluke in Laviolette’s eyes. Kane agrees. Nothing has fundamentally changed in Panarin’s game.

“The way he plays with the puck, I think he’s always been able to do that: puck possession, hanging onto it, making plays,” Kane said. “I think he’s just developed everything.”

Panarin has spent the majority of his time this season playing left wing on a line with center Vincent Trocheck and right winger Alexis Lafrenière. Both clearly are fans of their linemate, who helped them set career highs in points this season. Trocheck sometimes wears a No. 10 hat after practice, and Lafrenière keeps a Panarin bobblehead in his locker at the training center.

Fans adore him, too. They bring stuffed baguettes to Madison Square Garden in honor of his nickname, Bread, and “M-V-P!” chants broke out when he took the ice this week in the Rangers’ final regular season game. Larry David, who loves the Rangers, recently called the way he controls the puck “amazing” on a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” sitcom episode. (Panarin had never heard of the show — “Is it a big shot?” he asked — but teammate Adam Fox showed him the clip. Panarin added he’d try to stickhandle better after David’s joke.)

“It’s such a big market,” Kane said. “I know the fans love him, and he loves playing there.”

A big market comes with big pressure for top players, especially as games rise in importance. And with last year’s failures still fresh, Panarin knows it’s essential for him to deliver.

(Photo: Jared Silber / NHLI via Getty Images)

Artemi Panarin seeks playoff redemption after career season with Rangers (4)Artemi Panarin seeks playoff redemption after career season with Rangers (5)

Peter Baugh is a staff writer for The Athletic NHL based in New York. He has previously been published in the Columbia Missourian, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Politico and the Washington Post. A St. Louis native, Peter graduated from the University of Missouri and previously covered the Missouri Tigers and the Colorado Avalanche for The Athletic. Follow Peter on Twitter @Peter_Baugh

Artemi Panarin seeks playoff redemption after career season with Rangers (2024)


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