The Russian rookie just notched his first NHL hat trick and is now a top-five scorer overall in the league. As a free agent this past summer, he could have picked any team, but he went with the one in the midst of a dynasty – the one that has made a habit of identifying talent at an elite clip.
Chicago Blackhawks rookie left winger Artemi Panarin scored his first NHL hat trick last night, adding to his freshman scoring lead and Calder Trophy resume. Feel free to debate the rookie of the year race, but at the same acknowledge that Panarin has been one of the best free agent signings of the 2015-16 season.
And of course it was Chicago that landed his services.
The Blackhawks are a juggernaut for many reasons, from Joel Quenneville’s coaching to the vaunted core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford. But the franchise’s management and scouting department deserves a ton of credit, too. Not only do the Hawks identify talent well, but they also take risks in the draft. The result is a steady stream of talent, whether it’s the prospects themselves coming up, or from trade returns only made possible by having prospects other teams want.
And sure, Chicago’s not the only team that does this; but the Hawks have it down to a science. Let’s start with Panarin. The 24-year-old former KHLer could have signed anywhere in the NHL this summer, but he chose the Blackhawks. Panarin quickly found chemistry with offensive wizard Patrick Kane and the pair’s line with center Artem Anisimov has been crazy-good all season. As I’ve said before, playing with a talent such as Kane isn’t easy – keeping up with elite players usually means being elite yourself, because they process the game so quickly.
So props to Panarin for being that guy, but also give a shout-out to Chicago for picking the right Russian. In a year where Evgeny Medvedev (Philly), Sergei Plotnikov (Pittsburgh) and Sergei Kalinin (New Jersey) also came over as free agents, only Panarin has made a lasting impression.
Panarin had a ton of suitors and the final list involved six teams. While other franchises offered to make Panarin a star attraction, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman had a plan that impressed the Russian and his agent, Tom Lynn, who believed the left winger was the type of player who helped others soar.
“They give guys of that skill level the opportunity to succeed,” Lynn said. “So many other teams make promises – and they mean it…in the summer.”
Now, it’s true Chicago also signed Viktor Tikhonov this summer and he ended up getting picked up off waivers by Arizona, but this speaks to that advantage the Hawks have: they can take chances. I’ve seen this a lot with the L.A. Kings, another team that has won multiple Stanley Cups recently.
When the Kings draft, they take chances and get rewarded. They can take those chances because they already have a super core (Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, etc.) and no problem attracting traditional free agents (as in Chicago, the city itself is an attraction). Tyler Toffoli is a great example; a points machine in junior, other teams questioned his smarts. Los Angeles clearly wasn’t concerned and boom: the 23-year-old has already scored more than 20 goals in a season twice and is one of the best possession players in the entire NHL.
Andy Andreoff had already been passed over twice when the Kings took him 80th overall in 2011 and now he’s a regular bottom-sixer. Chicago did even better with Andrew Shaw, himself passed over twice before the Hawks nabbed him 139th overall in that same draft class.
Are the Hawks and Kings that much different than the other 28 teams? Perhaps only by degrees, but the cores and winning traditions they have established recently means they’re basically the house in a casino, with opponents as the marks. Chicago got a bit of a steal when Teuvo Teravainen was available with the 18th pick in 2012 and then watched the youngster save the Hawks in Game 1 of the Cup final last year with his “Finnish Cold” performance.
Winning breeds winning and no team has done it better than Chicago in the past six years. And that’s part of the reason Panarin got his hat trick with the Hawks and not some other franchise.
“To tell you the truth,” Lynn said, “they’ll probably get more players like that down the line.”