Artem Anisimov relearning to play center with new linemates

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Artem Anisimov celebrates with defenseman Cody Franson after scoring against the Flyers on Wednesday. (AP Photo)

Being Patrick Kane’s center is more like being Patrick Kane’s second left wing.

Kane is unusual among wingers because of the way he dominates the puck. It’s Kane who usually leads the breakout, Kane who usually carries the puck through the neutral zone, Kane who usually dictates entries and what happens once in the offensive zone.

That was just fine by Artem Anisimov, who spent two years as Kane’s center. It freed Anisimov up to focus on his defensive responsibilities, and to go hard to the net and look for loose pucks to stuff in. That worked out great, as Kane had his two best seasons in the NHL and Anisimov potted 42 goals.

But now that Anisimov is back on a normal line, with more typical wingers, there has been something of a relearning curve. He’s just starting to get the hang of this whole center thing again. After posting just one goal and one assist in the first 10 games, he has scored in three straight — one short-handed, one at even strength and one on the power play — while adding an assist.

“I feel much better because I have the puck more, and I make more plays and feel confident,” Anisimov said.

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He took a moment to think of the right word to describe his mental process over the first month of the season before settling on the perfect one: “reinforcement.” He just had to remember how he played most of his career before landing in between Kane and Artemi Panarin, two gifted and unusually creative puck-handlers.

“It’s true,” Anisimov said. “I carry the puck more through the neutral zone [now] and just try to make plays and be responsible in all zones.”

A rotating cast of wingers hasn’t really helped. Anisimov has spent most of the season with veteran Patrick Sharp on his left wing but has cycled through a few right wings. The last three games, Sharp and Anisimov have played alongside rookie John Hayden, and the results have been promising.

“Way, way better,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “[Anisimov has] been way more effective, having the puck more, carrying the puck more, [and] he has more pace to his game. . . . His game and the pace have really picked up. It’s such a big improvement in our team game when you add his presence in the middle of the ice.”

The bruising Hayden is quite different than the shifty Kane, but Anisimov has been impressed.

“He’s really skilled, too,” Anisimov said. “And he’s a big guy, and he wins the battles all over the ice. It’s helpful. He always gets the puck.”

Anisimov has been more aggressive lately, too. He fired nine shots on goal over the last two games — the same amount he had in the previous seven games.

Anisimov looked lost for much of the first month of the season — almost like a first-year player adjusting to an all-new system. Considering how different his role is without Kane and Panarin on his line, that’s sort of what he is. But like so many other players adapting to a new role, it just took a little bit of time to figure it out.

“You lose two wingers like he had — that was a pretty great position to be in, playing with two of the best in the game,” Quenneville said. “So maybe there are some adjustments there. [But] I don’t think he’s complaining with who he’s playing with now. And Arty, that big middle center you like, gives you some options when he’s playing like that.”

NOTE: Defenseman Gustav Forsling will miss a second straight game Saturday in Minnesota with an apparent head injury, but he returned to practice Friday and could play Sunday against the Canadiens.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com


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