It seems social media can explode at even the smallest rumour. Take a quick moment to search through hockey related Twitter accounts and you will uncover 30 fan bases all shouting at their respective general manager to sign this little Russian player named Artemy Panarin.
Rarely are Panarin’s accomplishments cited without first having referenced him as being “the guy who outscored Ilya Kovalchuk”. While true, Panarin is younger and a different type of player to what Kovalchuk once was with the Thrashers. One could spend all day posting gifs and clips of Panarin, but instead of setting unreasonably high expectations, it’s worth taking a more realistic look. While it’s only at rumour stage right now, there are barriers. Let’s take a look at the likelihood and potential of Artemy Panarin bringing his game to North America.
Hearing free-agent F Artem Panarin, who led KHL champion St. Petersburg in scoring, is getting close to joining the Chicago Blackhawks.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 28, 2015
Let’s treat Panarin for who he is — SKA’s best player. Now, let’s slap some realism on the rumours. First, they came from championat.com, with fifty other places like Sports.ru reposting this story. It is conveniently timed for this story to break, too. After all, Panarin’s line at SKA struck at Sweden during the Euro Hockey Tour to take the game into overtime. It is prime time for Russia’s next star to suddenly want to go to the NHL, with a Gagarin in his hands and an expiring contract on April 30th. People are freely throwing around the “Datsuyk” and “Ovechkin” labels, with Championat churning out articles. It can’t be just cynicism to point out that the timing is spot on, and like what Leafs Nation did about Radulov, Championat could be doing back to North America
Cynicism aside, one thing the article did consider: Is it a good time for him to move to North America?
The ambiguous answer is yes, and no. Like everything there are pros and cons. As the aforementioned article raises, there’s one big sticking point – he’s undrafted, which already negatively effects his chances of a secure place. For proof, look at the treatment of Jiri Sekac and the subsequent trade, where people were quick to think, “we traded an undrafted asset for a draft-picked asset.” While I’m of the mind this is codswallop, and that outside of the first round and maybe the second, draft position is a little bit funny. Sticking with the Canadiens, Nikitia Scherbak fell far down the draft list, below his skill level. Sure, Panarin and Sekac are different players by a stretch, but that mentality still exists. Undrafted players are riskier. While some would consider that an outdated perspective, there is a degree of sense. North America has different ice rinks and a different style of game. Panarin wont get the space to dance around the net, to make those longer passes out to Evgeni Dadonov. Adjustment times and a degree of adapatiabitly has to be tested, and that can’t really be without a trial by fire or an AHL stint at the very least.
The article always brings up the NHL’s attitude to Russians and the reluctance, but also emergence, of names like Valdimir Tarasenko, Nikita Kucherov and others. The attitude around Europeans has changed; teams are more open and they have been far more successful. While the old mentality still exists with the draft and the hesitation of drafting Russians especially, the general signings haven’t been as restricted. Again, with players like Sekac — who was pursued by around 20 teams — it shows that teams are far more receptive. Even in Eliot Friedman’s 30 thoughts on the subject, he openly states that teams are scouting him, and as the Dinamo Riga press releases show, that NHL are sending more and more eyes to all around Europe, not just Russia. The idea of “soft” Europeans is (slowly) waning and with rising nations like Korea, France and even Japan, the birth of talented international players is growing wider, and imports are now a suitable source for rebuilding teams to steal that prime talent.
There are other important factors to consider regarding the likelihood of Panarin moving to the NHL. The World Championships and North America’s reluctance to fully embrace smaller international tournaments could be a sticking point. He wants to play at the World Championships and I’m sure Russia wants him to as well. While he might not be mentioned along with Ovechkin or Crosby, he’s a rising young star that is not going to be tugged away easily from Russia.
Panarin is helped with the salary cap estimated to increase, which means more teams could be considered potential landing spots. Steve Moses successfully got into the Nashville Predators on the $1 million deal — not as much as he would make with SKA, but got in on a decent deal either way. However, unlike his teammate Viktor Tikhonov, who wants to go to the Coyotes, he’s not bound by the rights of a team, but stuck to a two-year, two-way entry level contract. This limits where and what he can do, and an AHL stint seems far more likely on a competitive team than a lottery team. Yet, going back to the original article, the author brings up the Oilers and Peter Chiarelli who took the GM job, and who says he might want more forwards to bolster their ranks. The Coyotes or Sabres — or any lottery team — will be in need of talented young players to support their draft picks. The author also brings up successful teams like Chicago that give trust to young talented players, or even the young Calgary flames that have been buzzing in the playoffs. Coupled with a weaker free agency market, one in which Jeff Petry is looking to be the best UFA, that gap in the market could be filled with imports. Panarin’s value isn’t going to climb much higher, and there is a gap that might help him avoid the AHL altogether.
If you are interested in Panarin you can go through his game-by-game stats or his wider overall stats and decide for yourself. Whether he comes over or not is still anyone’s guess. While there isn’t a guaranteed NHL roster spot, this is the year he could make the move, and it may be one where teams are ready to line-up for his services. While he may prove tempting, it may prove useful to avoid having such lofty expectation from such a young player. Overselling and a misinterpretation of Jiri Sekac left fans confused as to why wasn’t he a first line guy straight away. Artemy Panarin is a truly talented young player who has already made dents on the international scene, from destroying Canada’s hopes in 2011 to storming ahead in the historic comeback.
Take some time and watch his game. Make up your own mind. Just try to remember him as being more than “just that guy who scored more than Kovachuk.”