It was actually the game-winning goal. Not many thought it would be, but an empty-net goal in Chicago’s controversial 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues Friday Night turned out to be the difference. That empty-netter also happened to be Artemi Panarin’s first Stanley Cup Playoff point.
At 24 years old, Panarin isn’t your typical rookie. Before signing with the Chicago Blackhawks last May, he’d appeared in 263 KHL (Russian Hockey League) games, registering 183 points including 76 goals. The KHL has a pretty good level of competition and talent which can include many of the best Russian talents that don’t come over to the NHL, so having that experience and volume of success gave Panarin a leg up on some of the other top rookies coming from College or the Canadian Hockey League. He was playing professional before the NHL, a rare occurrence among North American players.
Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville has nicknamed Panarin “The Bread Man” and he’s definitely got the lettuce that could go right on that bread, too. No one is quite sure where “The Bread Man” came from, but he has certainly delivered the goods in his rookie season. Playing Left Wing alongside Hart Trophy Winner (league leader in points) Patrick Kane, Panarin netted 30 goals and 47 assists in 80 games. That’s almost a point per game; rarified air among the best talents in the NHL and even more impressive considering he is a rookie. The first rookie 30-goal scorer since 2011, Panarin looks primed to take home the Calder Trophy for Top Rookie at the NHL Awards in June.
Just to give an idea of how good Panarin has been this season in terms of dollars and cents, his base salary was $812,500. Not much for the typical NHL skater, but not bad for a rookie contract. That salary quadrupled. By scoring 60 points and 25 goals he received another $850,000 and a whopping $1.725 million bonus for being among the top 10 NHL forwards in points. That doesn’t happen every day and I don’t think even the Blackhawks were expecting him to develop such a chemistry with Patrick Kane in his first NHL season.
Panarin is must-watch hockey this spring as the Blackhawks are once again in the thick of things fighting for their fourth Stanley Cup in seven years. After the departure of some veterans and key pieces from the cup-winning ‘Hawks this past summer due to cap space, the Blackhawks were able to land their next star, something that would prompt NHL on NBC analyst Pierre McGuire to say, “Give an assist to GM Stan Bowman on this one for signing this guy,” every time Panarin makes a spectacular play. While the Blackhawks might have limped into the playoffs, which many probably aren’t concerned about, Panarin did just the opposite. Over his last five regular season games he recorded a ridiculous 13 points. It’s just not done regularly, which should make Blackhawks fans very excited about The Bread Man’s future because he has virtually his whole career in front of him.
If Chicago is to skip the first two months of the golf season and make a deep run yet again, it will need to receive the same type of production from Artemi Panarin as it has gotten all season long. There is no reason to think he won’t be sensational, either. Playing with one of the most successful cores in NHL history, Panarin can help etch is name into Blackhawks history, NHL history and possibly the Stanley Cup, not just this year, but for a long time to come.