Watching Wednesday’s introductory press conference featuring Artemi Panarin, I was struck by two things.
One, the Columbus Blue Jackets are pinning an awful lot of expectations on the “Bread Man.”
Two, he seems ready for them.
There’s something weird about the history of this team, a feeling of “Will this actually work?” (As a Clevelander and thus a Browns fan, I know this feeling well.)
With the Jackets, history isn’t always on your side. Certainly not everything has gone wrong in franchise history, but enough has that you always catch yourself wondering.
Sure, he was good in Chicago, but he was playing with Patrick Kane. Can he score as much in Columbus without him?
And wait, high-scoring Russians named Zherdev and Filatov didn’t exactly work here. Is this déjà vu?
He’s the team’s biggest trade acquisition since Jeff Carter. Are we doing THAT again? Pass the Maalox.
But unlike Carter, who made no bones about how he didn’t want to be in Columbus, and unlike those draft picks, who never grew into their roles, Panarin seems ready for this particular time and situation.
Take the Kane comments. Many have pointed out that Panarin had to have benefited from artificially enhanced point totals in Chicago by being on a line with one of the most gifted players in the world, someone he won’t exactly find in Columbus.
Panarin answered perfectly, pointing out that his skills have often been diminished by those who attributed his scoring totals to others.
“He gets a little bit angry at it,” translator Dan Milstein said.
At that, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen jumped in.
“It should be noted that Patrick Kane had a couple of the best seasons of his career playing with Artemi, so I think it works both ways,” he said.
Before the press conference could move on, there was a quip.
“Thank you,” Panarin said, drawing laughter from the assembled media.
And that was what I took most from this press conference. Yes, Panarin is funny, with a disarming smile and a goofy sense of humor – not to mention an understanding of English that clearly is stronger than he’s ready to let on during a press conference.
That’s all well and good – seriously, this league could use some personality at times – but the accompanying takeaway is more important: This guy burns for it.
He would never say it in English and probably not in Russian either, but there was a certain resolve to many of his comments. He admitted he wasn’t expecting the trade at first but said he now is working twice as hard to prove himself on a new team. And any suggestions he’s a player made by those around him – like Kane – clearly dig at him.
Oh, you think 30 goals and 40 assists per year happen because of another guy? OK, we’ll see about that.
The smiles came quick Wednesday, but that drive nearly radiated from him.
And it’s a good thing he has that swagger with what has been placed on him. As our Rob Mixer pointed out, Columbus has watched a fair bit of offense leave the team this offseason. Included in that group is Brandon Saad, the 5-on-5 possession and goal-scoring force that went back to Chicago in exchange for Panarin.
Panarin certainly won’t be counted on to make up the entirety of the 55 goals that went out the door with Saad, Sam Gagner and Scott Hartnell, but similar production to what happened in the Windy City is penciled in. Anything less and Columbus won’t be the team it expects to be.
“He brings that game-breaking, 1-on-1 skill that you never have enough of,” Kekalainen said. “Guys who want the puck on their stick when the games are on the line, guys who can score that goal when it counts the most. Anywhere he’s been, he’s been a first-line player. He’s a guy who wants the puck at all times and wants to score – that’s the type of player we were looking for.”
The talking, now, is done for the time being. But for once, the talking provided those around the Blue Jackets exactly what they wanted to hear.