For the first 40-plus games of the season, the Blue Jackets' power play was their X-factor.
In close games or in games when they were trailing and needed a spark, going a man up was the most sure-fire way to turn the game around. They operated at over 30% for the first three months of the year and finished in the top-10 overall, owning the league's best unit for a big chunk of the schedule, but it sputtered down the stretch and raised some eyebrows among the team's management.
Sam Gagner went through a dry spell, the chances were fewer and further between, and the No. 1 unit seemed disjointed. Something wasn't right.
As the Blue Jackets' hockey operations group assembled their offseason objectives, one of them was to add skill and give their power play an additional weapon. They certainly found that in the dynamic and talented Artemi Panarin, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in a blockbuster trade on Friday afternoon before the NHL Draft.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen made several references to Panarin's power play prowess during his pre-draft media availability, saying the silky smooth Russian has a well-rounded skill set that will help the Blue Jackets right away.
"You want to win the tight games, you need power play skill and power play ability – and there aren’t too many better than Artemi Panarin. We have a better two-unit punch now," Kekalainen said.
"The power play is important – we had it going for a while and then we didn’t have it going, and we could see it in our success in those games. When our power play wasn’t going, we weren’t going as well, either. I keep repeating myself, but the power play is huge in the league when the games are so tight, and often one-goal games."
Panarin scored 31 goals in 2016-17 - his second consecutive 30-goal season since breaking into the NHL - with nine of those coming on the power play. He's a player who makes a habit out of putting pucks on the net, totaling 211 shots this past season and operating with a 14.7 shooting percentage.
Simply put: this is a star offensive player who shines on the power play. He will have a larger 5-on-5 role in Columbus than he did in Chicago, and will most certainly be a prominent fixture on the power play.
Think of Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, Alexander Wennberg, Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson...yeah, that's a really good thing.
“He’s a first-line talent," Kekalainen said of Panarin. “He’s a guy that can put games away in the big moments and has that special talent that we’ve been looking for.”