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Blackhawks star Patrick Kane: It ‘would be fun’ to reunite with Artemi Panarin

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Blackhawks star Patrick Kane drifted through questions at All-Star media day Thursday until someone mentioned a player who isn’t even here. He perked up when he heard the name Artemi Panarin.

Rumors of a possible reunion between the Hawks and Panarin have swirled all season, and Kane undoubtedly would welcome it. They’re both excellent scorers and passers, which made them a marvelous fit as linemates until the Hawks traded Panarin to the Blue Jackets after the 2016-17 season.

If Panarin wants to return to Chicago in free agency this summer, Kane said he is all for it.

‘‘Yeah, of course,’’ he said. ‘‘We had so much chemistry together. It was fun playing with him. Artemi’s a great kid, too, so we had a lot of fun off the ice, and I think it translated on the ice because we were having so much fun.

The Hawks traded Panarin in 2017, but could get him back as a free agent this summer. | Jay LaPrete/AP

‘‘Who knows what’s gonna happen to him next year, but it would be fun to play with him again.’’

Kane is in San Jose for his eighth All-Star appearance, but Panarin has the week off despite having a strong season. He’s tied for 23rd in the NHL with 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists) and is headed toward career highs in every category, prompting Kane to say: ‘‘He should probably be here at the All-Star Game.’’

Kane, by the way, is the only Hawks player with more than 50 points at the break.

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Panarin thrived for the Hawks with 30 goals in 2015-16 on his way to winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, then put up 31 goals the next season. He totaled 151 points in two seasons, and his numbers have kept rising in a more prominent role with the Blue Jackets.

Kane seemed wistful when talking about their offensive connection.

‘‘I don’t know if it’ll ever happen [again] or not, but for two years there, we really jelled well together,’’ Kane said. ‘‘We played pretty much the same game. He liked having the puck; he liked being the guy to make plays. I thought he was just as good of a passer as he was a shooter, which I think is pretty uncommon these days.’’

There’s sure to be a frenzy when a 27-year-old with that kind of talent hits the open market. It will be especially feverish in Chicago, where the Hawks are starved for firepower as they sit at the bottom of the Central Division.

Whether the Hawks can navigate their salary-cap situation to afford him is another question. That’s partly why Panarin was traded when he was.

The Hawks forecast his upcoming payday when they unloaded him six months after signing him to a two-year, $12 million extension. That deal yielded wing Brandon Saad, goalie Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round draft pick in 2018.

The move must have jolted Kane, considering their bond as players and friends. They’re still close.

When the Hawks visited Columbus, Ohio, in October, Panarin sent Kane a cryptic text the night before the game, asking him to meet up. After about a half-hour of chatting, Panarin pulled out a box with ‘‘a pretty nice watch’’ in it to thank Kane for helping him hit contract incentives with the Hawks.

‘‘That speaks volumes of the guy right there, that he would do something like that,’’ Kane said. ‘‘Pretty special for him to even think of me a year after he’s with another team. It meant a lot, for sure.’’

If Panarin wants to one-up that gift, there’s an easy way to do it: Just sign on the line.