It’s easy to get excited about a player that can outscore a teammate like Ilya Kovalchuk at the age of 23, but just how good will Artemi Panarin be when he makes the jump from the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA to Chicago’s organization?
“We’re trying to be patient with the expectations because he’s coming to a new country, learning the language. Everything is new to him,” Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman told CSN Chicago. “I always try to tell people, imagine you go to Russia and you’re expected to just jump in to a new culture and be a superstar right away. There will be a little adjustment there but he has special ability. It’s fun to think of the possibilities there.”
It certainly is fun to think of the possibilities. Patrick Kane hasn’t seen anything more than highlights when it comes to Panarin, but he can’t help but admit that it will be “pretty scary” if the KHL star can live up to expectations. Meanwhile, Panarin’s former SKA teammate, Viktor Tikhonov, who was also signed by Chicago is predicting that “Blackhawks fans are going to absolutely love him.”
Chicago’s decision to dip into the KHL for talent likely came partially out of necessity because its difficult cap situation lends itself to replenishing the team’s depth through less conventional means. The Blackhawks were also active when it came to recruiting undrafted college talent this summer, luring the highly touted Kyle Baun back in March.
The Blackhawks now have a few of new X-Factors that might make an impact in the coming season, but it’s likely that none will be watched more intently than Panarin, even if it’s reasonable to expect there to be an adjustment period.
Troy Stecher, the North Dakota sophomore defenseman that’s generated interest around the NHL, has opted not to sign an entry-level deal and will instead return to school this fall.
The news, first reported by the Grand Forks Herald, comes just over a month after Stecher helped UND advance to the Frozen Four, losing in the semifinal to the Jack Eichel-led Boston University Terriers. Stecher scored an unassisted shorthanded goal in the loss.
Stecher, who went undrafted largely because of his diminutive (5-foot-10, 190-pound) frame, was listed as one of USA Today’s NCAA’s top potential free agents in March; all the others listed — Evan Rodriques (Buffalo), Matt O’Connor (Ottawa), Kenney Morrison (Calgary), Casey Bailey (Toronto) and Kyle Baun (Chicago) went on to sign pro deals.
“He’s a real strong player with the puck,” TSN analyst Craig Button said of Stecher. “He can make plays and run a power play. He has a poise on the blue line.”
With the unrestricted free agent market expected to be thin, Chicago is doing a great job of recruiting talent outside of the NHL. The Blackhawks lured one of this year’s top college free agents in forward Kyle Baun and now they are close to inking KHL star forward Artem Panarin, according to CBC’s Elliotte Friedman.
Panarin, 23, had 26 goals and 62 points in 54 regular season contests with St. Petersburg in 2014-15. To give those numbers some context, his teammate Ilya Kovalchuk had 55 points in 54 games. Panarin was great in the playoffs too, adding another five goals and 20 points in 20 games.
There has reportedly been a number of teams interested in his services, including Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto, but he felt the Blackhawks would be his best fit. It’s possible that’s a reflection of what he sees this team doing over the summer.
The Blackhawks will need to get creative from a cap perspective because Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will come with $10.5 million annual hits starting with the 2015-16 campaign. That’s a big chunk of their payroll tied to two players, especially with the ceiling now projected to be about $71.5 million, down from the $73 million estimate in December.
There’s lots of speculation that Chicago will be looking to lessen that burden by trading Patrick Sharp, who comes with a $5.9 million cap hit. Bryan Bickell ($4 million cap hit) might be dealt too while others like defenseman Johnny Oduya ($3.4 million) might simply be allowed to walk as unrestricted free agents.