Sunday, April 26, 2015

Potential Overseas UFA's: Artemi Panarin, LW, SKA, KHL.

This is an exciting post for me since Artemi Panarin is my favorite non-NHL prospect in the entire world. 

(I don't own the copyrights to this image)
That's Panarin on the right

So who is he and where did he come from? Artemi (or Artemy, depending how the translation of Cyrillic to English alphabet works, so both are correct, much like Evgeni and Yevgeny are the same as well) Panarin was never drafted by an NHL team, despite being eligible in 2010. 

Panarin is a 5'11", 170 lbs left winger for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. He's been called the "Russian Patrick Kane" in terms of his puck-handling and playmaking skills. Before we let all the horses out of the barn in terms of hype I just want to say that this label puts far too much pressure on him. Not that I think he can live up to that though, within reason.

There was a rumor that was spreading around earlier this year that Panarin and his SKA teammate (and former Arizona Coyote draft pick), Viktor Tikhonov, wanted to come over to the NHL to play. I wasn't sure at the time if I should believe it since SKA has an incredible amount of money and would be a good place for a young 23-year old like Panarin to make his fame and fortune. However, a report was released yesterday that said Panarin was offered to become to second highest paid player on the SKA roster (after Kovalchuk) but declined and is instead coming over to the NHL this offseason when he becomes a free agent on April 30th. Not sure whether Tikhonov will be joining him though.

So now that we know he's coming, although to what team I am not sure (there can be arguments made for each though), let's take a look at the type of player he is. Looking purely at points, Panarin had 62 points (26G 36A) in 54 games (SKA's leading point scorer) for the regular season, and he additionally had 20 points (5G 15A) in 20 playoff games for SKA as they won the KHL championship (Gagarin Cup).

This was all while playing on SKA's second line too, so Panarin didn't even get top-line minutes and was able to put up fantastic numbers. Panarin was a key part in SKA's powerplay too, playing on the first powerplay unit. Panarin usually parked himself in the faceoff circle to the right of the goalie and directed play from there. For anybody who watches the Capitals, just picture where Nicklas Bäckström plays during the Powerplay, just on the opposite faceoff circle.
Bäckström is a pretty good play-style comparison for Panarin on the powerplay, since he hardly shoots unless it's a rebound or he has a solid chance. I'm not purely stat-watching here, but Panarin has 3 times as many assists as he does goals, which I personally like because it means he's not necessarily having his numbers artificially inflated by another more-talented player. The second line of SKA consisted of Artemi Panarin, Vadim Shipachyov and Yevgeni Dadonov (yes the guy that one Youtuber hates), which isn't a line of scrubs at all, but just shows to show how much potential talent Panarin has.

From what I've seen of Panarin's play, I'd say a good playing style comparison for him is that of Jaden Schwartz with more playmaking ability. Both are left wings, about the same size (Schwartz has a few more pounds of muscle though, which can be added on), play a very responsible defensive game, play the game with a lot of heart and physicality with great playmaking abilities.

So let's take a look at some of his recent play from the KHL playoffs. Panarin is wearing #72 for SKA (blue and white main colors)

This goal was from Game 5 of the Gagarin Cup Finals (the last game of the series). While Panarin didn't score the goal, he played a key role in it. His forechecking here was remarkable. Panarin was able to get as assist on this play, and rightfully so, but what this shows me is that Panarin is able to stand up to a high level of physicality. Panarin does an excellent job fending off defenders' checks and creating space for himself to set up a scoring chance.

This goal comes from Game 2 of the Gagarin Cup Finals. It's fairly straight forward, SKA was on the powerplay and Panarin jumps on a rebound to score.

I know these are highlights but they're a great way to see what sort of skill set he has.

Panarin is excellent at gaining the zone through possession (doesn't dump the puck into the zone), and has an excellent wrist shot and backhand. 

Panarin has plenty of international experience as well. He's played for Team Russia at the World Juniors Championship, European Hockey Tour Championship, IIHF championship games. He's currently playing for Team Russia at the European Hockey Tournament. This is a recent goal he scored against Team Sweden (the Youtube uploader didn't allow embedding)

While this is not necessarily a pure talent goal, it's important to show that he can still produce at all sorts of levels of competition.

Panarin is 23 years old, so if an NHL team would sign him to a 2-year ELC. With the cap hit of $900,000 and thee max bonuses of the ELC's being potentially $3.7 million and the fact that Panarin recently turned down a major offer from SKA, it goes to show that Panarin is not really interested in the money right now. He knows if he plays well here he'll get his pay. In the initial rumor that came out, it said Panarin would want to sign with a team that gave him the best opportunity to play Top-6 minutes, maybe even top line minutes, and while the recent report hasn't said anything, I think it would be safe to assume that he will want to sign with the same team as his teammate, Viktor Tikhonov.

So all in all, I really think Panarin will make a significant impact on an NHL team that's willing to take a risk on signing him. He has the skillset to be a top-6 playmaker and a solid piece for any championship team. He has plenty of experience in a championship scenario as well.

I really don't see any potential setbacks, because it's essentially a free prospect, but there is always an adjustment period between going from the big ice of the KHL to the smaller ice of the NHL as well as getting used to the more physical game of the NHL.

I really look forward to seeing what Panarin can do in the NHL, and of course I hope my team signs him. We'll see though. He looks like he really has all the tools to be successful.

Like what you read? Have any comments or suggestions on who to write about? Feel free to let me know and follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more posts.

Thanks for reading!

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