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Bread Man is the Gamebreaker Columbus Needs

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Artemi Panarin is off to a flying start in the Buckeye state—His presence on the ice is multifaceted.

NHL: New York Islanders at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When the Columbus Blue Jackets swapped out Brandon Saad last June to the Chicago Blackhawks for the anticipated Bread Man, Artemi Panarin, it was hard to contain the excitement.

The body of work was evident after just a few seasons alongside perennial All-Star winger and future Hall of Famer Patrick Kane. That begged the question, how would Panarin do without Kane? How would Kane do without Panarin?

Impact Status

Well, Kane has been in the league for a decade and has made on-ice chemistry with a plethora of skaters. Artem Anisimov has had a tremendous offensive output in Chicago, matching his career-high in goals last season (22) and setting a career-high in points (45) in just 64 games.

In addition, Kane had his two best seasons as Panarin’s linemate. He led the league in points with 106 in 2015-16, the first time Kane did that, en route to winning his first Art Ross. He followed that season up with his second-highest career point total (89).

Of course being healthy works, as Kane played a full 82 games each of the last two seasons, the first time since 2011-12, and not counting the lockout shortened-season of 2012-13.

Panarin has been a NHLer for all two-plus seasons. He has the Calder Memorial to his name after a 30-goal, 77 points plateau in his first season, then followed that up with 31 goals and 43 assists last season.

While maybe Kane can work with anyone, and he and Anisimov enjoyed their time with Panarin, there is a sparkling attribute attached to Kane’s fondness of one Artemi Panarin.

At the time of the trade, Kane talked about his reaction to the trade and losing his winger on “Hockey Central” on Sportsnet: "I think I'd be sitting here lying to you if [I didn't say] my first reaction was pretty emotional. A little bit of disappointment too, because obviously we had that chemistry the past couple years."

Revisiting Saad

Without knowing the full scope of the Saad-era in Columbus, I had an inkling maybe Saad would be potentially available following the Jackets first-round ouster to the Penguins.

There were some signs that caught my eye.

First, there was the blowup on the bench between coach and player during last April’s playoff Game 1 against the Penguins. After that game, Tortorella explained his reasoning for benching Saad for the final 14:17 of the third period.

“I thought other guys were going at certain times. Saader needs to be a big part of this. I thought that line in the first period, it was their best period. It deteriorated from there. I was going with who I thought was going at that particular time in the third period.”

Second, Tortorella talked about wanting Saad to be that guy, the way Kane and Jonathan Toews were for him and others in Chicago.

“He needs to be that guy for us. Not lie in the weeds, but he needs to be that guy for us with some youth on the team.”

Saad had nice seasons statistically in Columbus—53 points each of the last two seasons—but there was no denying the comfort level of what he came from in Chicago, in which he won two Stanley Cups. Undeniably a leader, there is no question the amount of depth, both in ice-time, but also among veteran leaders in the Chicago locker room, which Saad may not have to be that vocal guy in the Windy City.

Pure speculation of course. But there is definitely a chemistry factor for Saad in Chicago with old chums, and being able to lay in the weeds from a depth perspective.

There were also the Blackhawks financial reasons for making the trade, such as the $10.5 million cap hit both Toews and Kane carry through 2022-23, and GM Stan Bowman had to be creative with attempting to keep his best core intact, while figuring out who can go.

Then there’s age although both qualify as young.

Both celebrate birthdays soon—Saad will be 25-years-old Oct. 27, Panarin will be 26-years-old Oct. 30. Saad is under contract at a little over $6.5 million per year through 2020-21, while Panarin will be a UFA after 2018-19.

The Blackhawks are trying to milk the rest out of their Stanley Cup window, while the Blue Jackets are trying to do the same with the right mix of young talent and veterans, and before they have to make their own decisions with key players.

Plus there were reports the Hawks were interested in reacquiring Saad last season.

A New Weapon

So while the trade benefited Chicago based on successful familiarity for Saad, winning pedigree, and chemistry, what was Panarin bringing to Columbus?

Well, production for one. Tortorella had this to say in June when the trade happened.

“Look at our series against Pittsburgh,” Tortorella told The Dispatch. “I thought we outplayed Pittsburgh quite a few minutes in that series, but for us to score a goal it took seven or eight chances. Pittsburgh goes down the ice, they make something out of nothing and it’s in the back of our net. That’s what this guy (Panarin) can do. That’s where this changes us. It’s another level offensively for our team.”

This was Panarin’s first goal against the Rangers Oct. 13.

In the teams’ first eight games, Bread Man has been all about delivering the dough and his teammates are burying the biscuit. Sorry that pun just writes itself.

He has a team-lead nine points, eight assists, and is the only forward cracking 20-minute ice-time on average. Tortorella also spoke glowingly of Panarin after the teams’ first game against the Islanders.

While everyone knew the offensive skillset was there with regards to the Russian forward—First player in franchise history to record three points in club debut—Tortorella talked about the ability of his young winger on the other end, described his personality as ‘infectious’, and remarked highly of his backchecking.

“I didn’t realize how much work he puts into the other part. I thought it was going to be a little bit of a learning curve of what we want out of him in that part of the game.”

He only has the one goal to date, but those will come. As the Union Blue rolled four lines in 2016-17—averaging 3.01 GPG—and featured a No. 1 power play for a lot of the season, that offensive dynamic will be close, if not more electric this season with the addition of Panarin. Quite possibly the best winger Columbus has had to date, the true impact of the addition will ultimately measure out over success in the playoffs.

There’s no question the dynamic impact Panarin brings individually, and how he can help the Jackets’ top line. He has talent around him, an element that eluded the likes of Rick Nash. Saad isn't the game-changer Panarin is. He works both ends of the ice, makes exciting passes to set up his teammates, and controls the puck the length of the ice.

Man’s Best Friend

Recently, Panarin posted a video to his Instagram showing another way he enhances his stick handling. While simultaneously entertaining his pup.

Columbus takes on the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night on NBCSN, a great opportunity for hockey fans to take a look at the feature-skilled talent.