Even during an impressive start in his rookie season in the NHL, Artemi Panarin has been squarely in the shadow of linemate Patrick Kane. But after his second consecutive two-goal game led the Blackhawks to a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night at the United Center, Panarin is edging closer and closer to Kane’s spotlight. Not quite like the Beatles opening for Roy Orbison. But the 24-year-old Russian could be a bigger star than many expected.
“You knew he was a special player from the outset,” said Kane, whose assist on Panarin’s first-period goal have him an NHL-leading 60 points in 42 games. “Great puck control. Great shot. Very focused on hockey and being successful.
“A couple of big games by him. A couple of huge goals. And he’ll get even more acclimated here in the United States that he’ll become a better player. Sky’s the limit with that kid.”
The imagination couldn’t help but run wild after Panarin’s impressive performance. These weren’t greasy goals by any stretch, but two pure, quick-release, sneaky-fast sniper shots that seemed to catch Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at least a little off guard.
“I’d heard about him. I’d seen him and stuff,” said Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury of Panarin. “He pissed me off now, though.”
“He snaps it — that’s the deception of it that can catch goalies,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He has pace behind it, too. You put those two together, it’s lethal.”
After scoring twice against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, including a game-winning snipe in overtime, Panarin beat Fleury twice more to give him 15 goals for the season and five in his last five games. His 38 points are tied for ninth best in the NHL.
“I [had] started thinking too much about scoring goals and didn’t score. It wasn’t helping,” Panarin said through an interpreter. “I stopped thinking about goals and started to score goals. “The center [Artem Anisimov] helps a lot, too.”
Panarin snapped a wrist shot from above the left faceoff circle to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead at the 15:58 mark of the first period. Evgeni Malkin tied the game with a blast from just inside the blue line in the second period. But Panarin took advantage of a loose puck following a face-off scramble and fired another wrist shot past Fleury to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead at the 8:56 mark of the third period. Teuvo Teravainen’s empty-net goal clinched it.
“He’s got a good shot, a good release,” Fleury said. “He shoots hard, so he’s got a good one-timer. The first one, I didn’t see it. The second one, it was a scramble in front and he came in, took a quick [shot] between a guy’s legs I think, and I wish I would’ve stopped it.”
Whether it’s the start of something big or just a good player on a hot streak, Panarin’s emergence has sparked the Hawks’ best run of the season — five consecutive victories that have the Hawks (25-13-4, 54 points) in second place in the Central Division — just six points behind the first-place Stars.
Now the question is not only how much better the Hawks can get, but how much higher Artemi Panarin can go.
“There’s definitely upside from here,” Quenneville said. “But so far, he’s been special.”