Artemi Panarin is not just back, he’s better than ever. The Breadman has 16 G and 26 A for 42 points in just 29 games and has led the Rangers to a 21-7-1 record, good for first in the Meto by a comfortable margin. That is an 118 point pace over 82 games, which would be the second most in a season in franchise history, and the most since Jaromir Jagr put up 123 in the 2005-06 season. Not only is Panarin producing at a high level, but he has also adapted his game to better suit the needs of this team. In particular, Panarin has started shooting the puck much more than he has before. In doing so, he adds another element to an already-potent offensive attack. But to fully appreciate the Breadman now, we must go back seven months to a much more painful time.
May 1st, 2023 was rock bottom for Artemi Panarin’s time on Broadway. The Rangers had just lost to the New Jersey Devils in game seven of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, capping off a series where Panarin was nearly invisible and mustered just two assists in seven games. Shortly afterwards, Panarin admitted that he felt “pretty empty” and was frustrated, emotions that mirrored those of the fanbase who had just watched their team effectively not show up in a do-or-die playoff game.
Panarin’s disappearance during the series was very disturbing for a couple of reasons. First, as the team’s most expensive player ($11.6 million/year), he is supposed to be the guy who takes over when the rest of the team is struggling. Not only did he not take over, but he appeared passive and overwhelmed by New Jersey’s speed. Second, as noted by Brian Abate in his article following the series, the Rangers have an unfortunate record of stars disappearing in the playoffs. Panarin has followed this trend so far during his Rangers tenure. Abate even pointed out that while Panarin put up a respectable 16 points in 20 games during the 2022 run to the Eastern Conference Finals, he struggled to drive play at 5-on-5 and was a diminished player from his regular season form. This year, the hope is that the new Artemi Panarin will be able to sustain his excellence past game 82.
Lettin’ it Rip
As mentioned before, the most noticeable difference in Panarin’s game is that he’s shooting the puck a lot more than in previous seasons. This season, he’s averaging 8.24 shot attempts/game, by far the highest in his career. Last season, he averaged 5.24 attempts/game in the regular season and 4.86 in the series against New Jersey. Those numbers are by no means bad (for reference, Sidney Crosby averages five attempts/game over his career), but they rightfully indicate that Panarin is a pass-first player.
As we have seen in the past, this typically leads defenders shading towards taking his passing lanes away. However, this year, opposing defenders have had to respect Panarin’s shot far more, thus opening up more opportunities for his pin-point cross-ice passes. The quality of Panarin’s shots is also improving. Per Money Puck’s shot charts, Panarin is not only shooting a lot more around the circles but also making a more concentrated effort to work his way into the slot and around the net.
A good example of Panarin’s new-found preference is this goal against the Canucks on October 28th. After the Rangers enter the zone with possession, JT Miller knocks the puck off Vincent Trocheck’s stick, and Panarin scoops it up. He then works his way to the top of the slot and fires a wrister through traffic and past Casey DeSmith for the PPG. This type of shot has been a rarity for Panarin, as he often defers to passing to shift the defense in search of the perfect shot (Joe Micheletti’s favorite criticism). By adding shots like this to his repertoire, Panarin is adding another layer of his game for defenders to consider.
A Necessary Scorer
In shooting more, Panarin has also helped fill the scoring need on this Rangers team. He is on pace for 45 goals this year, which would shatter his previous career high of 32 in 2019-20. This has been particularly important this year, as the Rangers are missing a few of their “goal scorers.” Chris Kreider has 16 tallies this year and looks as dangerous as ever, but he gets his most of his goals around the net and is the only other Ranger in double-digits. Mika Zibanejad’s slow start is the major storyline this year, as he has just nine goals so far and has struggled to produce much at 5-on-5. Tie in the fact that Filip Chytil has missed 19 games and did not score in the 10 games he did play, and the Rangers are missing a lot of their goal-scoring punch from last year.
Even when Mika returns to form, and Chytil returns to the lineup, Panarin needs to continue this style of play if the Rangers are to make another deep playoff run. While his goal totals in previous season were impressive, it is apparent that he was not using his shooting talent to its maximum potential. This has greatly increased his dynamic presence on the ice and has helped take the team’s offense up a level. As a result, Panarin has Rangers fans thinking about the future instead of the past, an impressive feat considering what the mindset of the fanbase was not too long ago.