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Panarin has career year with MVP-caliber numbers for Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers

Artemi Panarin Artemi Panarin - The Canadian Press

Artemi Panarin was an established offensive player before he signed with the New York Rangers in 2019. He has only boosted his numbers since then and is coming off a career year going into the playoffs.

The Russian forward averaged 29 goals and 51 assists in his first four seasons with Chicago and Columbus. Since coming to New York, he's topped 90 points every year except for the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season.

Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon had higher point totals and figure to dominate the Hart Trophy discussions for NHL MVP but Panarin is right there. He finished fifth in goals (49) and assists (71) and fourth in points (120). His goals and points were both career highs.

“Those three letters describe him very, very precise,” teammate Mika Zibanejad said. “I think he the way he takes control over games, comes up with big-time goals and big-time plays, he’s always been one of the best but he’s really — in a weird way to say — he’s taken another step and it’s awesome to see.”

Panarin’s production helped the Rangers set franchise records for wins (55) and and a league-best 114 points to earn the Presidents' Trophy. Coach Peter Laviolette, in his first season leading the team, has marveled at his star left wing's steady production over his career.

“I think the elite players do that," Laviolette said. “They do it with consistency year in and year out, and I know that this is kind of a benchmark year for him, but his statistics over the last seven or eight years are incredible. They’re in the top probably eight players (that) can produce on a rate like he does. ... This isn’t just a fluke, it’s just a really good one.”

Before arriving in New York, Panarin's career high for goals was 31 with the Blackhawks in 2016-17. He topped that with 32 in his first season with the Rangers in 2019-20 and then zipped past that total this year. He had 59 assists with the Blue Jackets in 2018-19, and has topped that every year since, except for the shortened 2020-21 season.

This year, he finished three assists shy of his career-best (74) set in 2021-22, and his points (120) far eclipsed his previous high of 96 set in the same season two years ago.

“He’s been an elite player offensively and this year’s obviously been his best,” Laviolette said. "But it’s not like it’s this huge jump and where did it come from? ... He’s done a really good job for a really long time.”

Panarin's point total is second in franchise history behind Jaromir Jagr (123 in 2005-06). He had a point in 67 of 82 games, setting a new team-record. He also reached several milestones this season, including passing the 650-game mark, a career-high 15-game point streak, and topping 750 career points.

Panarin also had career highs with 11 power-play goals, 33 power-play assists, and 44 power-play points as the Rangers finished third in the NHL at 26.4% with the man-advantage. His assists were fourth in the league on the power play and points tied for third.

In addition to the offensive numbers, Laviolette also credited Panarin for his defensive play in ways that don't show up on the stat sheet.

“What’s impress me most about him, his compete level on pucks and in battles,” he said. “I mean, you just talk about the offense but to get that offense you have to find ways to generate it. And he uses his body and leverage on his stick as well as anybody i know.”

Asked if he could point to the reason for his increase in production, Panarin couldn't come up with anything and laughed when asked whether shaving his head this season helped.

“I’m lighter, yeah, this year,” he said, before adding, “I would say like multiple things like partners, coaching staff, whole team, got lucky sometimes. Just everything together.”

The Rangers, seeking their first Stanley Cup title since 1994, face the division-rival Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs.