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Blackhawks' Panarin early leader for Calder Trophy

by Mike G. Morreale / Chicago Blackhawks

Top rookies aren't seen as secondary players in the NHL today. Coaches and general managers expect their best young players to have an immediate impact in a salary-cap world and help propel their teams through the grind of an 82-game regular season.

The 2015-16 season is turning out to be a banner one for first-year players. The loss of Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid to a broken left clavicle Nov. 3 has put on hold his chances of winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year, but there are many other gifted young players who have filled the void.

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin is one who has excelled. He's spent the season in a top-six role, mostly alongside center Artem Anisimov and right wing Patrick Kane.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Russian, who agreed to a two-year contract May 1, leads rookies in assists (14), points (21), primary assists (eight), power-play points (five) and shot attempts percentage (56.94) among those to play at least 10 games. He's also first among rookie forwards in average ice time per game at 19:11.

That level of play makes him the front-runner for the Calder Trophy.

"He's a very skilled player," Kane recently told the Edmonton Sun. "He's got great hands, a great shot, can turn on a dime and lose his defender very easily. Sometimes he kind of mesmerizes defenders the way he can go back and forth. He's one of the best players I've ever seen as far as being on your edges and cutting back and forth."

Panarin, 24, was asked why the chemistry has been so good between him and Kane; they have accounted for more than 35 percent of the scoring for Chicago.

"Me and Kane are on the same wavelength and he always finds the right words so that I can understand him," Panarin said via a translator.

A sign of things to come came in Panarin's NHL debut against the New York Rangers on Oct. 7, when he scored on his first shot against goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Prior to joining the Blackhawks, Panarin spent seven seasons playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. He had 26 goals and 62 points in 54 games last season for SKA St. Petersburg.

Panarin was passed over in the 2010 NHL Draft because as a 19-year-old he was listed by NHL Central Scouting at 5-foot-9, 154 pounds. Scouts at the time gave him an outside chance of playing in the NHL if he developed, which he did, outscoring teammate Ilya Kovalchuk for St. Petersburg last season. He received high praise for his speed, balance and mobility, but the thing that really stood out was his work ethic, something he's carried over to the NHL.

"[Panarin] was kind of a late bloomer; he had been good but not great," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. "He got his real big international breakthrough at the [2015 IIHF] World Championship in Prague in April. I believe the Russian factor may have scared some teams away before that."

FINALISTS

Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes: A first-round pick (No. 12) in the 2013 NHL Draft, Domi has excelled in a top-six role, at times alongside center Antoine Vermette and right wing Mikkel Boedker. The Coyotes allowed Domi, 20, to continue his development with London of the Ontario Hockey League, and that patience is paying off. Domi's eight goals are tied for the rookie lead, and he's second with 16 points while averaging 16:29 of ice time.

"I really didn't have an expectation of X amount of goals or points for him," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "I just hoped he would come in and get a regular amount of ice time, and if that happened, the production would follow. That's just who he is and the way he plays."

Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues: The 2012 third-round pick (No. 86) was a surprise opening-day addition to the Blues roster and has earned an increasing amount of ice time. Parayko (6-5, 226), who spent three seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks before turning pro late last season, leads rookie defensemen in goals (five), points (12), plus/minus (plus-10) and shots on goal (48), and ranks first among all rookies with 36 blocked shots. He has averaged 19:34 of ice time per game and is well-regarded for his skating, decision-making and strong shot.

"What surprised us [about Parayko] was his offensive instincts, because there was no indication that he had this element in him where he could run a power play and could make decisions on the offensive blue line with composure," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We didn't see that even when he was with the Chicago Wolves [in the American Hockey League] last year. [Wolves assistant coach] Mark Hardy told us he has potential offensively, but he got better in training camp and the exhibition games and frankly beat out veteran guys for a job."

ALSO IN THE MIX: Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings; Anthony Duclair, LW, Arizona Coyotes; Linus Ullmark, G, Buffalo Sabres

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