COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus had its first look at Artemi Panarin in a Blue Jackets jersey on Wednesday when he spoke to the media in Ohio’s capital city for the first time since the June 23 trade that sent Brandon Saad to the Blackhawks in exchange for the 25-year-old Russian forward.
Panarin made a great first impression and showed personality, too — cracking jokes, smiling when someone referred to him by his nickname, “Breadman,” and telling fans what they can expect of him alongside Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
“With this team, I will be able to progress as a player and help the team win many trophies,” Panarin said through his interpreter and agent, Daniel Milstein. “I’m going to bring lots of smiles, good moments for the fans and lots of goals as well. I’ll play productive and beautiful games the fans will enjoy.”
That bold statement is something he has been able to back up with his on-ice performance since he became an NHL regular. He scored 32 goals and tallied 75 points in 82 games for the Blackhawks last year, and scored 30 goals and totaled 77 points in 80 games during the 2015-16 season. His one-timer is often compared to NHL All-Star and fellow countryman Alexander Ovechkin’s — one of the most lethal shots in the league.
Panarin’s skill and statistics were what the Blue Jackets’ front office — including Kekalainen — saw as a major need after falling to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins in five games during the first round of the playoffs.
“[Panarin’s] definitely not one-dimensional,” Kekalainen said. “He’s a great passer. We have some players who can really move the puck, who can play the give-and-go game, but can also give him the puck where he can shoot it. He’s going to give us another weapon and give [Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella] options, and [give us] more depth in scoring. He will fit in perfectly for what we’re looking for.”
Some attribute Panarin’s performance solely to playing on the Blackhawks’ top line alongside NHL All-Star Patrick Kane, but Panarin and Kekalainen both feel that is not the case.
“Throughout my career, people always said I’m playing [well] because of somebody else,” Panarin said. “Nobody remembers when I played prior to the last couple years. I’m used to [people saying that] and I don’t pay any attention to it.”
Milstein added, “He gets a little angry from it.”
Kekalainen quickly jumped in to give his own opinion, too.
“Kane had a couple of his best seasons playing with [Panarin], so it works both ways,” Kekalainen said.
Panarin will have a familiar face to help him adjust to life as a Blue Jacket — fellow Russian and Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The two have become close friends, often serving as teammates on the Russian national team.
“He called me immediately to welcome me to the team,” Panarin said.
Bobrovsky may end up serving as Panarin’s translator, too, in postgame interviews in the Jackets’ locker room. However, it was clear that Panarin was better with English than he let on, sometimes interjecting in English after Kekalainen or Milstein spoke on his behalf, or smiling and laughing after a question was asked before Milstein could translate it for him.
Panarin, who wore No. 72 in Chicago, also said that he settled on the No. 9 for his Blue Jackets jersey (7+2) because he could not take the number worn by his friend Bobrovsky.
“It wasn’t an option,” Panarin said, after joking that he brought boxing gloves to Columbus to fight for the number.
Overall, Panarin seemed excited for his new opportunity with his new team, and, like the rest of the Blue Jackets, is out to prove himself.
“I want to continue progressing,” Panarin said. “And I’m going to show up every game.”
As he has done so far in his career, expect Panarin to do so in front of his team and fans at Nationwide Arena this season.