As the highest-paid Ranger for the foreseeable future, Artemi Panarin is subject to a different kind of scrutiny — especially with a looming cap squeeze that also may squeeze the club’s Stanley Cup window.
The notion that Panarin didn’t do enough during the Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final has hung over the team this offseason. That’s an observation that will always come with the territory for Panarin, but it’s not so black and white.
Let’s talk about it.
Panarin skated in all 20 of the Rangers’ playoff contests before the Lightning knocked them out in six games in the conference final, collecting six goals and 10 assists for a career-high 16 postseason points. Of course, it was the longest playoff run of the 30-year-old’s six seasons in the league, but he did put up more points than ever before.
There was his overtime winner in Game 7 of the first round against the Penguins, which completed the Rangers’ comeback from down 3-1 in the series. Panarin posted seven points (three goals, four assists) in that series and played a key role — in addition to Jacob Trouba’s monstrous hit on Penguins star Sidney Crosby in Game 5 — in the Rangers advancing.
His production dropped off, however, in the second and third rounds, over which Panarin recorded three goals and six assists (including seven points on the power play) in the final 13 games against the Hurricanes and Lightning. He had similar stretches in the regular season during which the spark in his play was missing and an uncharacteristic hesitancy crept in.
That inconsistency can get exploited on the playoff stage, but there are still tremendous benefits to having a player like Panarin on the ice. For one, he’s a high-profile threat who forces teams to keep track of him. The way he can draw in defenders opens up lanes for others. Plus, Panarin simply has a hand in more offensive plays than not.
There may be another level to Panarin’s game when it comes to the playoffs, and the Rangers will certainly need it if they hope to not only repeat last season but build off it. During break-up day, Panarin said things didn’t go the way he wanted in the playoffs, the discontent all over his face.
“Tough situations make stronger people,” he said without the help of a translator. “Soft situations make softer people. Good situation. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. But depends how you react.”
The 2021-22 playoffs were the sixth of Panarin’s career, which includes — perhaps unfairly — the Rangers’ three-game sweep in the qualifying round of the 2020 bubble playoffs. His best showing in the postseason came with the Blue Jackets in 2018-19, when he scored five goals and dished six assists in 10 games as Columbus lost to the Bruins in the second round.
To analyze just his playoff performances, however, would be unfair to assessing his impact on the franchise. Igor Shesterkin’s otherworldly Vezina Trophy-winning season and Chris Kreider’s 52-goal campaign certainly played major roles in the Rangers’ second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division, but so did Panarin’s team-high 96 points (15 more than any other player on the team) and 74 assists. The Rangers don’t qualify for the playoffs as efficiently as they did without Panarin.
Even during a season in which it appeared he may have had another gear to reach, which we saw during his first season with the Blueshirts (95 points in 69 games in the coronavirus-suspended 2019-20 season), the Russian winger was still a productive and impactful player.
The Rangers needed, and still do need, Panarin to get through the regular season. If he can tap into that consistently throughout a postseason run, those questions from fans and himself will fade away.
The Rangers named Jamie Tardif as the new assistant coach of the Hartford Wolf Pack and promoted Casey Torres to player development assistant for the AHL club.
Tardif, who played two games for the Bruins in 2012-13, spent the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons as an assistant for the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. Torres served as an assistant coach for Hartford last season.
Thanks to our Texts from the Blue Seats followers for always being down to talk hockey in the middle of the summer…
Patrick Kane, or no Patrick Kane? I truly believe that Kane would solidify the Rangers as contenders for the Cup. I just don’t see how they can get it done under the current cap situation.
— Robert Minton, Walter Baransky, Anthony Martorano, Randall Bingham
There’s no doubt Kane not only would bolster the Rangers’ top six, but he would also take the club to another level. Depending on how the Rangers’ season unfolds, Chris Drury may be on the hunt for rentals like he was at the trade deadline last season, but the president and general manager probably won’t be able to get away with picking up four players and just giving up draft picks and a player such as Morgan Barron to make it happen. He’ll need to shed salary to make space, and that could mean putting some lineup staples — such as Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil or Ryan Lindgren — on the trade block. The Blackhawks would also have to retain 50 percent of the $10.5 million cap hit on Kane’s final season of his deal. If the Rangers are in a position to significantly improve at the deadline, acquiring a three-time Stanley Cup champion like Kane should be considered. Championship windows are always slimmer than expected, and a win-now maneuver shouldn’t be overlooked.
Everyone compares Vincent Trochek’s production to Ryan Strome’s. But Strome had Panarin. So in addition to faceoffs and playing with an edge, what can we expect from the “Panarin boost?”
— Christopher Garvey
When Andrew Copp came in at the deadline and played next to Panarin at both center and wing, it was clear that Panarin can raise the games of most players who play alongside him. The benefit of exchanging Strome for Trocheck are their different styles of play. Trocheck brings more sandpaper to a top six that desperately needs it and a grinding style that can open up the ice for the Rangers’ high-skilled players like Panarin. Oh, and yes, the anticipated improvement on faceoffs will be welcomed.
After missing most of last year, what do you expect from Sammy Blais? Where will he slot into the lineup? Can he help?
— Richard Ramsey, Michael DiNardo, Murray Krugman
I caught up with Blais recently and I could tell just how hungry he is to get back out there. I think Blais is a Tyler Motte-type with a little more strength and a little more offensive upside. The hope is that Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere or maybe even Vitali Kravtsov can seize a top-six role. That way Blais can bring his talents to the bottom six. I expect Blais’ blue-collar work ethic and strong play along the walls to help the Rangers fulfill that tougher-to-play-against mantra they’ve had in place for the last few seasons. Head coach Gerard Gallant has used Blais in the top six before, so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if he wanted to give the top two lines a different look with the Canadian winger. Ideally, however, Blais will bring his offensive upside to the third or fourth line.