GLENDALE, Ariz. — If you want a clear sense of the advantages big market teams still enjoy in the National Hockey League, feast your eyes on Chicago left winger Artemi Panarin when the Blackhawks face the Coyotes on Thursday at Gila River Arena.
Before Panarin ever arrived in the United States, the Coyotes were aware of him, had scouted him and wanted him to come to Arizona. Coyotes senior advisor Dave King coached Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League in 2013-14 and in 2014-15. He was also identifying talent for the Coyotes and Panarin was on the radar.
At the time, the Coyotes did not have a full-time scout in Russia due to budget constraints while the team passed through league ownership and eventually to IceArizona. Instead, they sent European scout Robert Neuhauser to watch Panarin play. Neuhauser was based in the Czech Republic, but also canvased Sweden and Finland.
“Panarin was one of about four or five names we submitted but we had the sense that he was going to be way out of our league,” King said. “He was a great little player but teams contact free agents well in advance by talking to their agents and we knew other teams like Chicago had a lot more to offer him at the time.”
The Blackhawks were coming off their second Stanley Cup in 2013, they had the type of resources that only about a third of the league enjoys and before Panarin ever played a game, Chicago swung a cap-induced deal to acquire center Artem Anisimov from Columbus, giving Panarin a fellow countryman to play with in a city that also boasts a sizeable Russian population. Chicago also signed former Coyote Viktor Tikhonov, who served as Panarin’s translator.
“When Russian players come over, they really want to be successful so going to a Stanley Cup champion was a huge thing for him,” King said. “It’s the same thing with Toronto and [defenseman Nikita] Zaitsev. He saw the opportunity to go to a team that really could go some place in a few years and that’s really attractive to the Russians.”
Panarin won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year last season, scoring 30 goals and posting 77 points while playing on a line with Anisimov and Patrick Kane. This season, he has 17 goals and 44 points in 52 games.
Panarin underscores the obvious value that resources and a successful franchise have on attracting top talent, but it also underscores the importance of scouting. The Blackhawks tracked Panarin steadily during his rise with Vityaz Chekhov and SKA St. Petersburg. They had developed a relationship.
The Coyotes have that opportunity now. They have a full-time Russian scout in Sergei Kuznetsov. He lives in Yaroslavl and scouts both the top and second-tier leagues and covers all the major tournaments in the country.
It is especially important for the Coyotes to be tracking Russia now that Russian players are coming to the NHL again after a hiatus. Concerns over the economic viability of some KHL teams, a devalued ruble and the success of young Russian players in the NHL such as Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov have paved the way.
“What you’d like to do is get to a point where there’s no Artemi Panarin out there as free agent,” King said. “You’d like to draft him.”
Blackhawks at Coyotes
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Records: Coyotes — 16-27-6. Blackhawks — 30-17-5.
Injury report: Coyotes — C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is out indefinitely. LW Max Domi (hand) is day-to-day and could play. Blackhawks — D Michal Rozsival (lower body) is on injured reserve and is expected to miss three weeks.
Scouting the Blackhawks: The Hawks dropped their third straight game on Tuesday in San Jose, and have fallen from the top overall spot in the Western Conference to a tie for third with Anaheim. … GM Stan Bowman said Tuesday that Chicago is unlikely to make a big move at the trade deadline due to cap constraints, a tight market and the growth of its young players. … RW Patrick Kane leads the Hawks with 49 points (15 goals).. C Artem Anisimov leads the team in goals with 18; LW Artemi Panarin has 17. … Chicago’s power play has fallen to 20th in the NHL at 17.3 percent; the penalty kill is 28th at 75.7 percent. … The Blackhawks recalled D Gustav Forsling to replace Rozsival and he will likely play.