Bringing Artemi Panarin to Broadway is paying dividends for the Rangers. The 28-year-old Russian forward, who led the Rangers and was tied for third in the NHL in scoring with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists) was named on Tuesday as a finalist for the Hart Trophy, given to the league’s Most Valuable Player. The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The announcement comes just one week after Panarin was named a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, which recognizes the Most Outstanding Player in the NHL, as chosen by the league’s players.
As with the Ted Lindsay Award, Panarin joins the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl and the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon as the three finalists for the honor. Draisaitl, 24, led the league in scoring in the abbreviated 2019-20 season, with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists). MacKinnon, also 24, was fifth in the league in scoring, with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) and led Colorado to the second-best record in the Western Conference.
“Artemi has had a special season, and it's not a surprise,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn told reporters on a Zoom call after the team’s practice. “I think everybody knows how we feel about him here; he's a guy that leads the league in plus/minus (plus-36) for forwards; he's third in the league in scoring; he's first in five-on-five play -- he's injected us with an awful lot of passion, enthusiasm, on top of what you see on the ice. There's no more of a deserving player than him to be in that conversation.’’
Speaking on a league Zoom call later in the afternoon with reporters, Panarin said he never expected to be in line for any postseason awards.
“I'm really very surprised, to be honest with you, to be nominated,’’ Panarin said through translator Nickolai Bobrov, the Rangers’ director of European scouting. “Even after the season was paused, I never even thought that I would be nominated for anything. So it's very important for me and very surprising for me, but it's much more important for my relatives and my loved ones.’’
Panarin, who left the Columbus Blue Jackets to sign a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the Rangers as a free agent last summer, made an instant impact on the Blueshirts and was easily the primary reason the Rangers managed to stay close enough in the first half of the season to make a strong run at a playoff spot in the final two months. He led the NHL in even-strength points (71) and even-strength assists (46), and in five-on-five points (59) and assists (38). And he was the only player in the league to have 95 or more points with a plus-35 or better plus/minus rating.
An undrafted player from Korkino, Russia, Panarin won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, in 2016, while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. Should he go on to win the Hart Trophy, he would be the fifth Ranger to do so, following Buddy O’Connor (1947-48); Chuck Rayner (’49-50); Andy Bathgate (’58-59) and Mark Messier (’91-92).
One of the questions asked of the finalists on Tuesday’s call was who each of them would choose if they got to pick a fourth finalist. Panarin went for teammate Mika Zibanejad.
“I see him every day, how great of a player he is,’’ Panarin said of Zibanejad, who had a career-high 40 goals, including 23 in the last 22 games. “Obviously, his injury (that kept him out for 13 games in early November) prevented him from showing even more greatness. So I pick him, and I pick my buddy Patrick Kane (of the Chicago Blackhawks), too, if I could.’’