The Blue Jackets' quiet superstar had something to say Friday.
A native of Russia who isn't the most comfortable speaking to the media in his second language, Artemi Panarin has done no interviews in English throughout his career, always preferring to use a translator when speaking to the media.
But with the trade deadline nearing -- and one day after he switched agents ahead of his impending summer of free agency -- the Blue Jackets' leading scorer talked to team reporters about the decision that he faces this offseason.
And summer is when the dynamic 27-year-old winger, who is in line for the biggest contract of his career, will make his decision.
"I want to test free agency," he said after Friday's practice, one day before the Blue Jackets take on Vegas. "There is still a chance (I could re-sign with Columbus), but I want to see in the summer if I feel there are better options."
Whether he will make that decision after finishing his second season as a Blue Jacket or as a member of another team remains to be seen. Panarin is an unrestricted free agent and thus Columbus would not receive compensation if he were to sign with another team this offseason.
So the Blue Jackets face a dilemma: Keep the forward who is on pace for the highest-scoring season in Blue Jackets history and see what happens the rest of this season with a young, talented team, or trade him by the Feb. 25 deadline to recoup some assets.
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he will weigh potential trade offers ahead of the deadline and make the decision that is best for the team going forward.
"If we have to make a hard decision, we will," Kekalainen said Jan. 29 after Panarin's former agent, Dan Milstein, said Panarin will not re-sign during the season. "We like Artemi and would like to keep him, and it's his right to go into free agency. If he chooses to do so, we'll be knocking on his door July 1, but we're going to go about our business here and try to win hockey games and make the playoffs and go as deep as possible this spring, too."
Panarin said he would understand if the Blue Jackets have to make a deal but also said he'd like to stay in Columbus through the rest of the season "and help the team win the Stanley Cup."
"I still enjoy it here," he said. "I just want to play hockey. If Jarmo trades me, I understand the business. … After free agency, I can be in a position where there's no trades because I can control the situation. Right now, I don't control it, so I'm still just a hockey player."
Panarin said the outpouring of support in Columbus for his play -- including a billboard from a local distillery offering him free drinks for life if stays, prompting Panarin to visit the sign and post a photo with it on social media -- has been humbling.
"It's amazing," he said. "I felt very good after that. It makes it harder for me. I see how people want me to stay in Columbus. It's harder, but it's my life. You only have one life, and it's the next seven or eight years of my life. I want to be happy every day, and I want to see more options."
Video: CBJ@WPG: Panarin snaps one home from the circle
Panarin said the decision to change agents was made this week. His new representation, Paul Theofanous, is the agent of fellow Blue Jackets Russian superstar Sergei Bobrovsky, with whom Panarin has built a friendship throughout his time in Columbus.
"I believe in Paul because he's worked in this league for years," Panarin said. "He knows more, I think, of how the league works, how general managers think."
Panarin has 20 goals and 40 assists for 60 points in 51 games this year and is on pace to set a new franchise single-season high in points, topping the mark of 82 he set a season ago. In his four-year NHL career, the first two seasons of which he spent in Chicago before being traded to Columbus ahead of the 2017 draft in a deal that returned Brandon Saad to the Windy City, he has 293 points in 294 games.
The Korkino, Russia, native said he doesn't have a particular team in mind that he'd like to play for, but that's down the road. In the meantime, he is focused on continuing to do his part for the Blue Jackets.
"If they keep me, I will play hard," he said. "I feel we have a good chance (to win the Cup here), but first what I want to do is go to the playoffs."