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Is Artemi Panarin On His Way To Becoming Russia’s Premiere NHL Player?

New York Rangers v San Jose Sharks

Artemi Panarin has had a life-changing year.

He joined a new team on a franchise-record contract. He moved to a new city, the largest media market in the country. And most recently, he earned his first NHL All-Star selection.

Not bad for a small-town kid who grew up using skates that didn’t fit.

On Monday, the NHL revealed the full rosters for the 2020 All-Star Game in St. Louis, and Panarin received the nod as the only New York Ranger playing for the Metropolitan Division. But when the Korkino, Russia native takes the ice at the Jan. 25 event, that won’t be the only group he’s representing. Following Alex Ovechkin’s decision to skip the game, Panarin will be the lone Russian player participating.

For years, Ovechkin has been the face of Russian hockey at the NHL level. His dominance is unquestioned. But Ovechkin’s absence from this season’s All-Star proceedings has drawn a flood of bad press and the ire of the league; NHL rules dictate a one-game suspension for voluntarily skipping the event. Even if the break means preparing his body for the second half of the season, the silver-haired version of Ovechkin isn’t the same as the player who once posted three consecutive 100-point seasons.

Panarin’s stock is rising. He’s in the middle of a career year. His exuberant personality is thriving in New York. Could Panarin supplant Ovechkin as the premiere Russian player in the NHL? At the very least, he has a compelling case.

International players are gateways into new markets for the league. As demonstrated by the success of the NHL Global Series, fans around the world are captivated by their fellow countrymen playing at hockey’s highest level. Nico Hischier and the New Jersey Devils’ trip to Switzerland to face SC Bern last year energized the country for a preseason game. Before the Tampa Bay Lightning’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres in Sweden this season, kids waited outside the team hotel to snag Victor Hedman’s autograph.

Russia is no different. The NHL is immensely popular there according to Gillian Kemmerer, global hockey reporter and host of The Faceoff for the KHL. All league games are streamed for free on Yandex, which Kemmerer described as a tech company that is “essentially Russia’s Google.” The 44 Russian-born players that make up 4.9% of NHL rosters are intently followed, with an emphasis on superstars.

And Panarin’s NHL career has undoubtedly been worthy of that label. Since entering the league in 2015-16, only five players have posted more points than Panarin’s 375 – Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid. He took home the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2016 and is one of 36 players in NHL history to record at least 320 points in his first four seasons. This year, Panarin ranks in the top 10 in points (55), goals (22) and assists (33). He’s on pace for his first 100-point season and would be the first Ranger to do so since Jaromir Jagr in 2004-05.

However, a key component of Panarin’s star power derives from his cheerful personality. He’s a prankster, even through a language barrier. When Panarin first entered the league, he was asked what English phrase he likes best so far and responded, “What the [bleep],” according to former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mark Lazerus. He’s an avid social media user and even has an Instagram account dedicated to his dog. When he scores a goal, Panarin kicks his leg up high as if he’s a member of the Rockettes.

For Panarin, the All-Star Game is the perfect place to display his combination of flair and extraordinary talent to the world. The NHL’s Midseason Classic averaged 2.02 million viewers over the last three seasons, according to SportsMediaWatch.com. While the Rangers are no stranger to attention, their national NBC game against the Bruins in November drew roughly 60% of the All-Star Game’s average. Coupled with the All-Star Skills Competition, the weekend offers massive exposure. What more could a rising star ask for?

After turning 28 in October, Panarin is in the heart of his prime. He’s a star player at the helm of a world-famous, Original Six franchise. He’s on pace to post a career-best year and became the first Russian to receive an All-Star selection in Rangers history. His rise to prominence in his homeland should be earmarked. But according to Kemmerer, there will always be one thing holding him back.

“One interesting thing to note about Panarin is that he is an outspoken critic of [Russian] President Vladimir Putin — a public position rarely, if ever, taken by a professional athlete in Russia,” Kemmerer said. “This may endear him to Western audiences who support athlete-activists, but it would not be a universally popular opinion in Russia.”

Differing ideologies make Panarin a divisive figure back home, whereas Ovechkin falls on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

“Ovechkin, on the other hand, has issued public support for Putin on social media, utilizing the hashtag #PutinTeam on images of himself casting a ballot or in an embrace with the Russian leader,” Kemmerer said.

Political views aside, the lasting impact of Ovechkin’s career makes it a tough job for any Russian player to supersede him. His 682 goals and 1250 points are the most by any Russian player in NHL history. The “Summer of Ovi” is forever burned into our memories. Plus, the league is filled with other gifted Russians – Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But Ovechkin and Kovalchuk are aging out. For Kucherov, Tampa Bay pales in comparison to New York as a media market, not to mention the Lightning’s early playoff exit last season dampened the significance of his Hart Trophy win. Kuznetsov’s reputation took a hit after an “inappropriate conduct” suspension and four-year ban from international play. Malkin doesn’t embrace the media the way Panarin does. And Tarasenko’s production rate doesn’t measure up to New York’s star.

When the All-Star Game arrives in a few weeks, the world will get a glimpse of Panarin’s brilliance. Succeeding Ovechkin as the premiere Russian in the sport is no easy task, but Panarin has a strong case.

“>

New York Rangers v San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 12: Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers and Filip Chytil … [+] #72 celebrate after Panarin scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks for his third goal of the game at SAP Center on December 12, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Artemi Panarin has had a life-changing year.

He joined a new team on a franchise-record contract. He moved to a new city, the largest media market in the country. And most recently, he earned his first NHL All-Star selection.

Not bad for a small-town kid who grew up using skates that didn’t fit.

On Monday, the NHL revealed the full rosters for the 2020 All-Star Game in St. Louis, and Panarin received the nod as the only New York Ranger playing for the Metropolitan Division. But when the Korkino, Russia native takes the ice at the Jan. 25 event, that won’t be the only group he’s representing. Following Alex Ovechkin’s decision to skip the game, Panarin will be the lone Russian player participating.

For years, Ovechkin has been the face of Russian hockey at the NHL level. His dominance is unquestioned. But Ovechkin’s absence from this season’s All-Star proceedings has drawn a flood of bad press and the ire of the league; NHL rules dictate a one-game suspension for voluntarily skipping the event. Even if the break means preparing his body for the second half of the season, the silver-haired version of Ovechkin isn’t the same as the player who once posted three consecutive 100-point seasons.

Panarin’s stock is rising. He’s in the middle of a career year. His exuberant personality is thriving in New York. Could Panarin supplant Ovechkin as the premiere Russian player in the NHL? At the very least, he has a compelling case.

International players are gateways into new markets for the league. As demonstrated by the success of the NHL Global Series, fans around the world are captivated by their fellow countrymen playing at hockey’s highest level. Nico Hischier and the New Jersey Devils’ trip to Switzerland to face SC Bern last year energized the country for a preseason game. Before the Tampa Bay Lightning’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres in Sweden this season, kids waited outside the team hotel to snag Victor Hedman’s autograph.

Russia is no different. The NHL is immensely popular there according to Gillian Kemmerer, global hockey reporter and host of The Faceoff for the KHL. All league games are streamed for free on Yandex, which Kemmerer described as a tech company that is “essentially Russia’s Google.” The 44 Russian-born players that make up 4.9% of NHL rosters are intently followed, with an emphasis on superstars.

And Panarin’s NHL career has undoubtedly been worthy of that label. Since entering the league in 2015-16, only five players have posted more points than Panarin’s 375 – Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid. He took home the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2016 and is one of 36 players in NHL history to record at least 320 points in his first four seasons. This year, Panarin ranks in the top 10 in points (55), goals (22) and assists (33). He’s on pace for his first 100-point season and would be the first Ranger to do so since Jaromir Jagr in 2004-05.

However, a key component of Panarin’s star power derives from his cheerful personality. He’s a prankster, even through a language barrier. When Panarin first entered the league, he was asked what English phrase he likes best so far and responded, “What the [bleep],” according to former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mark Lazerus. He’s an avid social media user and even has an Instagram account dedicated to his dog. When he scores a goal, Panarin kicks his leg up high as if he’s a member of the Rockettes.

For Panarin, the All-Star Game is the perfect place to display his combination of flair and extraordinary talent to the world. The NHL’s Midseason Classic averaged 2.02 million viewers over the last three seasons, according to SportsMediaWatch.com. While the Rangers are no stranger to attention, their national NBC game against the Bruins in November drew roughly 60% of the All-Star Game’s average. Coupled with the All-Star Skills Competition, the weekend offers massive exposure. What more could a rising star ask for?

After turning 28 in October, Panarin is in the heart of his prime. He’s a star player at the helm of a world-famous, Original Six franchise. He’s on pace to post a career-best year and became the first Russian to receive an All-Star selection in Rangers history. His rise to prominence in his homeland should be earmarked. But according to Kemmerer, there will always be one thing holding him back.

“One interesting thing to note about Panarin is that he is an outspoken critic of [Russian] President Vladimir Putin — a public position rarely, if ever, taken by a professional athlete in Russia,” Kemmerer said. “This may endear him to Western audiences who support athlete-activists, but it would not be a universally popular opinion in Russia.”

Differing ideologies make Panarin a divisive figure back home, whereas Ovechkin falls on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

“Ovechkin, on the other hand, has issued public support for Putin on social media, utilizing the hashtag #PutinTeam on images of himself casting a ballot or in an embrace with the Russian leader,” Kemmerer said.

Political views aside, the lasting impact of Ovechkin’s career makes it a tough job for any Russian player to supersede him. His 682 goals and 1250 points are the most by any Russian player in NHL history. The “Summer of Ovi” is forever burned into our memories. Plus, the league is filled with other gifted Russians – Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But Ovechkin and Kovalchuk are aging out. For Kucherov, Tampa Bay pales in comparison to New York as a media market, not to mention the Lightning’s early playoff exit last season dampened the significance of his Hart Trophy win. Kuznetsov’s reputation took a hit after an “inappropriate conduct” suspension and four-year ban from international play. Malkin doesn’t embrace the media the way Panarin does. And Tarasenko’s production rate doesn’t measure up to New York’s star.

When the All-Star Game arrives in a few weeks, the world will get a glimpse of Panarin’s brilliance. Succeeding Ovechkin as the premiere Russian in the sport is no easy task, but Panarin has a strong case.

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