It's been quite a debut season for Artemi Panarin with the Blue Jackets.
Since being traded to Columbus in a blockbuster deal last June, he's dealt with a lot of change. After bursting onto the NHL scene for two big seasons with the Blackhawks, playing opposite Patrick Kane, the highly-skilled Russian has forged a new identity of sorts as a Blue Jacket.
He's the same guy, with the same 'Breadman" nickname and same gregarious personality, but he's also different. Panarin is no longer playing in the shadows of superstars. He is the superstar. Whatever line he's on, that is by default the Blue Jackets' No. 1 line, no matter who's playing with him.
He's gone from pupil in Chicago, learning about NHL life from a core group of three-time Stanley Cup champions, to teacher in Columbus, where he's developed a strong bond with 19-year old rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois, a star-in-the-making.
Panarin might've lost the everyday presence of Artem Anisimov as a teammate and friend in Chicago, but he's gained a new Russian friendship with Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
The explosive one-timer is still lethal, but he doesn't lean on it as much. It's just another weapon now, not a crutch.
He's learned about a new city, new coaches, new teammates and new conference this season, and with 13 games left, you'd have to say he's handled all those changes deftly, with the same fluidity with which he handles the puck.
He's the Jackets' leading scorer, with 21 goals and 60 points, and Columbus is making its push to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight year - spearheaded by a special talent from Korkino, Russia, who's just three years into his NHL career.
With translation help from his agent, Dan Milstein, Panarin took some time to discuss that and other topics with BlueJackets.com on Friday, after the Blue Jackets edged the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, at Nationwide Arena:
Did it take you a little while to adjust to Columbus?
"As a city or as a team?"
"It didn't take much to adjust to the city, because that's kind of the life of the hockey player. You just get used to things fast."
How about as a player?
"Well, many thanks to the coach, because he didn't make me change my style of game at all. He didn't change anything, and I'm playing the way I've always played before."
It's been different not having Patrick Kane around, right? Did it take some time getting used to that?
(smiles): "Kane is a good player."
How are you feeling now compared to the beginning of the season?
"It's feels great now. In the beginning of the season, when I came here, I felt great and in shape. Then, I had a little dip down in the middle of the season, but now I'm back up to full force and I feel very good."
Did it take you a while to really feel like a Blue Jacket, after playing two years with the Blackhawks?
"It didn't take that long, really. Maybe a month or so."
What's your favorite part of Columbus, the city, so far?
"The River Walk. It's by my house and I walk it a lot. I walk there a lot … with my dog."
I know in Chicago you used to go for walks a lot, especially on game days. Do you still do that here?
(answers on his own in English, smiles): "Before the game? I have a dog now. No chance to walk."
Did you have the dog in Chicago?
(Back to translation): "I didn't have her the first year, but I did the second year, in Chicago and then here."
With 'Bob,' did you know him much before coming here?
"I didn't know him that well. We'd played on the [Russian] national team a couple times, but there was no relationship back then."
Was that an instant friendship here?
"So, I'm more of an open guy and 'Bob' is more of a closed guy, so I was ready to jump into the friendship right away, but 'Bob' took some time … to make sure. But after a little while of checking me out, he decided to talk to me."
How did he break the ice with him?
"I don't know. Maybe he just figured out that he could trust me."
Was there an expectation that because you guys are both Russian, that you would just automatically be friends?
"There was quite a bit. Two Russians here or two Americans in Russia, obviously they would be talking to each other. They always get along."
How important was it for you to have 'Bob' here, on a new team in a new city?
"As a player, as a friend or as a teammate?"
Start with, as a friend …
"I don't even need to explain how important he is, as a player, but as a friend … he's just a good person."
OK, shifting gears. The five-assist game in New Jersey this season, were you just in some sort of zone where everything was going right?
"It was just a regular game and the guys had good goals. Guys had their goals in the beginning of the season and I seemed to assist much more than I am now, so they're just good teammates and good goals from them."
When you have a game like that one, a huge game, are you able to just go to a different level and take over the game?
"So, the answer is yes, depending on my strength. I give it all in the first two periods, and sometimes in the third, if I have the strength, then yeah, I overcome [the fatigue] and play better."
What's it like playing for John Tortorella compared to playing for Joel Quenneville?
"I haven't changed my game. The coaches trust me here, just the way they did in Chicago, so really not much has changed in that regard."
How badly would he like to get back to the playoffs this season?
"It's not about me. It's about the team, so I just want the team to show up and play well for the playoffs and in the playoffs."
You want that Stanley Cup?
(smiles, answers in English): "Why not?"