GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When they were opponents, Henrik Lundqvist was well aware of Artemi Panarin’s tangibles. Twelve matchups over the course of four years against Chicago and Columbus revealed the winger’s abilities.
What Lundqvist had yet to learn about Panarin was an intangible quality that has become obvious to the goaltender this season now that they are teammates.
“He’s very in control,” Lundqvist said after practice at the MSG Training Facility on Monday, a few hours before the NHL announced that the left wing had been named to the Metropolitan Division All-Star team.
According to the Rangers, Panarin is the first Russian player in franchise history to be named an All-Star. And it was a no-brainer.
Panarin’s 21 goals are tied with Ottawa’s Anthony Duclair for fifth-most in the NHL and his 51 points are seventh-most in the NHL. He has six points in the Rangers’ last two games — both wins — and has not gone more than two games this season without registering at least one point.
“He’s a special player,” winger Ryan Strome said.
Panarin, who signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the Rangers on July 1, has 21 goals and 30 assists in 38 games. He is on pace to eclipse his single-season career highs in goals (31 with the Blackhawks in 2016-17), assists (59 with the Blue Jackets last season) and points (87, also last season).
Panarin turned 28 on Oct. 30, but although the NHL is a league in which its preeminent players are trending younger, he’s getting better.
“Artemi Panarin was a brilliant signing,” TSN hockey analyst Craig Button said. “I think Artemi Panarin is an elite player and I don’t see him as a player that’s going to fall off significantly as he gets older.”
Which is significant when an organization in a salary-cap league is earmarking $11.6 million annually to one player. But to coach David Quinn’s thinking, like Lundqvist, Panarin’s intangibles are vital to the Rangers.
“He loves hockey,” Quinn said. “He loves people. Doesn’t have a bad day and cares about winning . . . We’re very fortunate. Those guys are so important in your organization with how they act and what type of people they are. And we hit a grand slam in all those areas.”
A first-time All-Star, Panarin joins the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey), Dougie Hamilton (Carolina), Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh), Travis Konecny (Philadelphia), the Washington duo of Braden Holtby and John Carlson, and Columbus’ Seth Jones and Joonas Korpisalo on the Metropolitan Division team.
As part of the announcement, the NHL named Mika Zibanejad and the Islanders’ Brock Nelson to the Metropolitan Division’s list of players who can be voted to the All-Star team by fans. Every team has an eligible player, and the highest vote-getters in each division will participate in the festivities on Jan. 24-25 in St. Louis.
The NHL released the All-Star squads after the Rangers’ practice. Then they flew to Edmonton for their annual Western Canada trip, which begins Tuesday night against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.