Friday, October 2, 2015

Spies Like Us, Comrade

by Gatekeeper

Well, it's October, once again. Hockey, real hockey, is on the horizon. It would not be another Hockey year, though, without unreasonable expectations and angry, caps filled twats. God forbid you're pragmatic about unknown players or situations. If you're not on the "Panarin for Calder" tour bus before he has played a single NHL shift, on NHL ice, against NHL players, you're an enormous asshole.

I am, admittedly, an enormous asshole for plenty of reasons. Unfortunately for you all, this is not one of them.

I know, people. What is this loud mouth on about now? Here we go:

When the Blackhawks signed KHL 5th leading scorer Artemi Panarin, back in April, the prospect of a new, young player with some scoring touch was intriguing. That is all it should have been. Intriguing. Panarin is a 23 year old Left Wing, who turns 24 the day before Halloween, from Russia who has spent his entire career in the KHL. He started playing for Vityaz Chekhov, briefly, in the 08-09 and again in 09-10 season when he would have been 18. Most of his playing time, was in the Russian Junior League with Vityaz Chekhov. In 2010-11, Panarin saw his first full legit KHL ice time. He bounced around back and forth, eventually landing with SKA Saint Petersburg, late in 12-13. He played two full seasons there, winning The Gagarin Cup last spring. His accolades are as follows:

*2014-15 5th leading scorer in the regular season. 5th in goals. 6th in assists.
*2015 4th leading scorer in the playoffs. 15th in goals. 1st in assists.
*2013-14 12th leading scorer in the regular season. 9th in goals.

Impressive numbers.

Please keep in mind, though, that this is the KHL. This is a league that is, despite angry KHL fanboy replies, more comparable to the AHL than NHL. I digress, though, more on that later. He put up some very admirable numbers at 22/23 years old. This deserves some praise.

Panarin also played in the World Junior Championships in 2011, with future St. Louis Blues multi-millionaire Vladimir Tarasenko. He 3 goals and 2 assists for the gold medal winning team, in 7 games. He had a late goal, against the backup goalie, and assist in the final group play game against the Czechs, in which the Russians won 8-3. Panarin had an assist in the semifinal win against the Swedes. His biggest game was the championship game, where he had 2 goals against Canada, against current Rockford Ice Hogs potential backup Mark Visentin.

He also played in the IIHF World Championships this last year, for Russia where they were curb stomped in the championship by Canada's star filled team. Playing in 10 games, he put up 5 goals and 5 assists. This is probably the closest we have seen to Panarin playing against NHL competition. He was 15th in the tournament in scoring. Some other players in the tournament in the top 20 were Sid Crosby, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Tyler Seguin, Filip Forsberg, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Jason Spezza, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Eberle, Marian Gaborik and Loui Eriksson. Certainly some pretty good company. His numbers were good for 13th in goals. I don't want to be a "Debbie Downer" but we ARE team negative, here. Panarin was held off the score sheet in the entire medal round for a big semifinal 4-0 win against the US, a 5-3 quarterfinal win against the Swedes, and in the championship game against Canada. his goals were all in the group play against Norway (6-2 win), Finland (3-2 Loss), Slovakia (3-2 win), Belarus (7-0 win), and Denmark (5-2 Win). Other than Finland and Slovokia, those goals were in blowout win games. Three of his five goals, to be exact.

All this said, Panarin was definitely worth the Blackhawks taking a look at. Especially, since they needed to find new, cost effective ways to fill holes and stay under the cap. I have never faulted Stan Bowman for going out and giving it the old college try. What people fail to understand is that is exactly what Bowman is doing, here. He was taking a gamble on an unknown entity.

There are some things to take into account, though. Artemi Panarin has played on bigger ice surfaces his entire life. Try and blow this off all you'd like, but when you cut 15' off the width of an ice rink, there is a considerable difference as far as room to maneuver. Especially for smallish skill players. It is the difference between skirting by a defender and being planted head first into the glass. It takes time, against actual opponents, to adjust, not just a few practices with teammates that aren't trying to hurt you.

Let's get back to the KHL. This fucking league has long been a contention of mine. The KHL is not the talent equivalent of the NHL. It's not any equivalent to the NHL. It is a distant second, very much closer to the AHL. The NHL would wipe the floors with KHL teams. Everyone needs to stop acting like success there relates to the NHL in any way. A majority of the most successful players in the KHL are player that were highly unsuccessful here in the NHL, or didn't simply just didn't even make it to the NHL. There are a few, like Igor Kovalchuk, but he isn't playing in the KHL because its talent is any better. It's just a better salary and closer to home.

You can look for yourself. Check out the KHL league leaders for the last few years. ANY years, for that matter. The top players in the KHL are generally castoffs, and former NHL busts. Currently, Alexander Radulov is leading that league in scoring, as he also did last year. I think we are all familiar with what a colossal douche bag and pain in the ass that guy is, after his two notorious stints in Nashville. Both times he was basically told to go home. Cam Barker is the 3rd leading scorer in the KHL. Yes, THAT fucking Cam Barker. Players like Brandon Bochenski, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Nigel Dawes are consistently in the top 20 for scoring. Last year's leading KHL goal scorer, Steve Moses, signed with the Preds in the offseason and is currently hunting for apartments in Milwaukee Wisconsin, because he couldn't make the NHL team. There are very few players that come from the KHL and succeed in the US. Vladimir Tarasenko is probably the most notable to come over and have NHL success. Mind you, Tarasenko is also FIFTY pounds heavier than Panarin. Five, Zero. For every Tarasenko, there are 50 Kevin Dallmans. Kevin Dallman is one of the most decorated defensemen in that league, but he was an absolute nobody with the Kings and Bruins organizations. Outside of a handful of players, the KHL is full of AHL level players. It is a fact. Send me your angrily typed out tweets and comments, but that doesn't change a god damned thing. It's fine to be a big fan of the AHL or the KHL, but don't give me a plate of hamburger and try to tell me it's prime rib.

My whole point in this, is to temper your expectations. The fact that I need to do this EVERY FUCKING TIME a new player arrives on the scene is pathetic. Marcus Kruger. Teuvo Teravainen. Kyle Baun and Mike Paliotta. Remember those people that said Tervainen was a 1/2 point per game player right out of the chute? Took almost a full year year split between AHL and NHL until he finally hit that mark in the playoffs, last spring. We still don't know he'll be in a full NHL regular season but, regardless, it has taken time for him to adjust. Which is exactly what I said, in March of 2014.

Realistically, you'll probably see Artemi Panarin moved up and down the lineup. A reasonable estimation would be 15-20 goals and 35-40 points. Respectable. If he is lights out and exceeds those projections, everyone wins. Let's not even get into Viktor Tikhonov.....

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