Artemi Panarin leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with 10 points in 11 games. On the surface, it's a strong start to the year.
The Russian-born Panarin is the only Blue Jackets player in the top 50 of NHL scoring, and his nine assists tie him for ninth overall in the NHL. He has more assists than any other Blue Jacket has points.
It’s no secret that Panarin was brought in to provide a game-breaking element to a team that was clearly lacking a dynamic scorer. In some ways, he’s exceeded expectations; he’s caught his teammates off-guard with exceptional passing ability.
But the elephant in the room is that, despite all of this, Panarin has just one goal in 11 games.
In two seasons with the Blackhawks, Panarin scored 61 times in 162 games, more than a goal every three games. He scored on 15.3% of his shots on goal. This season, he’s shooting just 3.1%, a rate that's destined to climb, but it's nonetheless a frustrating trend for a Blue Jackets team that needs their best forward to produce goals.
What’s been pleasantly surprising is that Panarin's puck possession stats are better across the board compared to his time in Chicago.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Panarin's 5-on-5 Corsi For % (CF%) is 58.6%, meaning that when he’s on the ice, nearly 59% of all shot attempts are generated by the Blue Jackets. In the two years prior, Panarin's 5-on-5 CF impact was 54.7% and 51.8%.
Corsi isn’t everything, but driving play on a consistent basis is a good indicator of future offensive success. Panarin is helping to produce more high-danger scoring opportunities this year, on the ice for 56.94% of those chances versus 54.32% and 51.95% in his first two NHL seasons. He’s first on the team with an xGF (expected goals for) of 12.03, suggesting he would have been on the ice for 12 goals, and that’s exactly where he’s at.
Panarin is one of the league's better players in several possession-focused metrics (and clearly, 10 points in 11 games is solid production). But the Blue Jackets need to score more goals, and so far, Panarin hasn’t scored at the expected rate. Is it a cause for concern? Not at even strength, at least not yet.
Power Play Woes
Whereas 5-on-5 has been a strength for Panarin, the power play is absolutely an issue.
The Blue Jackets' power play was supposed to improve in a big way with the addition of Panarin, but the team has scored just three power play goals in 11 games. They're last in the NHL with a 10% conversion rate (3-for-30). Panarin is tied for the team lead with two power play points, but that’s not nearly the production the team was hoping for.
One of those scoring plays, on this pass to Nick Foligno, shows off Panarin's high-end talent. What looks like a normal play is actually an incredibly complicated and nuanced pass.
Watch how Panarin slips the pass through the skates of Kings defenseman Derek Forbort, giving Foligno ample time to bury his shot. He hooks his stick on the pass, confusing Forbort. Most players would expect a pass over their stick, but a hook pass between two skates? That's elite talent.
Still, he hasn't scored a goal on his patented one-timer, a look that the Blue Jackets were hoping to replicate given his prowess in Chicago.
The injury to Cam Atkinson could be painful for the Blue Jackets, but potentially beneficial for Panarin. Their former No. 1 line of Alex Wennberg, Atkinson and Panarin was pass-happy and Tortorella split them up last week.
"Obviously we had a lot of skill, but Bread Man loves the puck as well," Atkinson told our Jeff Svoboda. There's some credence to that; Panarin worked magic sharing the puck with Patrick Kane, and though nobody on the Jackets roster is on Kane's level, maybe giving him more puck touches will generate results.
What Does it All Mean?
Should Panarin have more than one goal? Yes. He's a gifted shooter that hasn't yet hit a goal-scoring streak. It will come.
It's easy to look at the "goals" column and determine that Panarin isn't pulling his weight, but there's some patience required here. By nearly every imaginable metric, Panarin is dominating play. Well-below average shooting percentages tend to normalize over the course of a season, meaning Panarin is due for some good fortune. He's a dynamic talent, and it's only a matter of time before output catches up to the input.