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Get to Know a Blue Jacket: Artemi Panarin

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As part of the build-up to the first-round playoff series between the Capitals and the Blue Jackets, Japers' Rink will be looking at some of the important Jackets players and how they might impact the series.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Artemi Panarin

#9 / Left Wing

Height: 5’11” | Weight: 168 | Born: October 30, 1991

Birthplace: Korkino, Russia | Acquired: Traded to Columbus by Chicago with Tyler Motte and Chicago’s 6th round pick in 2017 NHL Draft for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and Columbus’ 5th round pick in 2018 NHL Draft, June 23, 2017.

Assets: Is a supremely skilled winger who oozes creativity and is equally adept at setting up linemates and finishing off plays himself. His puck skills are off the charts and his shot is wicked. Is a true game-changing talent in the NHL.

Flaws: Does not have ideal size (5-11, 170 pounds) for the National Hockey League game, so he could stand to add more bulk and get physically stronger in order to continue to thrive at the highest level over an extended period of time.

Career Potential: Elite scoring winger.

(Via The Hockey News)

Via HockeyViz

Why You Should Know Who He Is: If you’re good enough, you’re big enough, and Panarin is plenty good enough, leading the Blue Jackets in scoring in his first season in Columbus. (Meanwhile, his primary running mate for the previous two campaigns, Patrick Kane, posted his lowest point total since the season Panarin arrived in Chicago for the draft lottery-bound Blackhawks. Funny how that worked out.) Panarin has been skating primarily with Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois for a while now, and that trio has outscored opponents 18-9 at fives, while posting a 56.0 Corsi-For percentage, per Natural Stat Trick. But it’s Panarin driving the bus - he’s a 55.0 CF%/62.5 GF% player away from those two this year, and has made just about every Jacket he’s skated with better - just get a load of these heat maps:

Via HockeyViz

Simply put, for the Caps, Panarin is a nightmare - especially at even-strength, where he was seventh in the League in scoring - in a small package.

How the Caps Can Stop Him: You’ll probably hear a lot of “Be physical with him because of his size and he’s not ideally built for playoff hockey,” but the reality is that if the Caps spend their time chasing Panarin looking to land the big hit, they’re going to get burned. The Caps will need to match up against Panarin with skaters (forwards and defensemen) who can keep up with his speed and creativity. That’s easier said than done, of course, and Panarin has torched just about anyone the Caps have thrown at him this year, posting, for example, a 65.4 CF% against Matt Niskanen, 65.1% against John Carlson, and 62.8% against Dmitry Orlov, per Natural Stat Trick. And lest you think that power-versus-power is the way to go, Panarin was 65.3% against Alex Ovechkin, 56.8% against Evgeny Kuznetsov and an almost unbelievable 73.2% against Nicklas Backstrom. Granted, this whopper of a game from back in early December skews those numbers a bit (an unheard of 17-1 shot attempt advantage against Backstrom will do that), and the Caps handled him a little better in their February meetings, but the point remains: there’s no great answer for Panarin - just awareness, best guesses, and the hope that he pulls a disappearing act like he did in the playoffs last time around (just one point, an assist, in Nashville’s sweep of Chicago last spring).