NEW YORK -- Artemi Panarin didn't need the interpreter the New York Rangers had for him at his introductory press conference at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to finally say what he has been waiting to say.
"I'm home," Panarin said in English.
Panarin made his first visit to the Garden as a member of the New York Rangers one day after the 27-year-old left wing agreed to a seven-year, $81.5 million contract.
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He toured the locker room, where the Rangers had two stalls made up for him, one with their road white jersey with No. 27 and the other with their home blue jersey with No. 10. Panarin picked No. 10 and put it on for the first time.
Panarin took pictures outside the famous building, including in front of the Seventh Avenue marquee that read, "HE'S A GAMECHANGER AND HE'S OURS, ARTEMI PANARIN" with a doctored picture of him wearing a Rangers uniform.
He also took pictures with Rangers coach David Quinn and U.S. women's hockey Olympic gold medalist Amanda Kessel, who was named an official ambassador to the newly created Junior Rangers Girls Hockey program on Tuesday.
"I dreamt of playing for the Rangers," Panarin said through the interpreter. "They're an Original Six [team] and my heart has been here."
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Panarin said the whirlwind of the past two days sapped some of his energy and emotion, and he called it a difficult time having to choose between the Rangers, New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and, his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets made a late push Sunday night to sign Panarin to an eight-year contract when they were the only team that could offer him that much term. Panarin scored 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 79 games with Columbus last season.
"It was really difficult due to some nuances having to do with money and cities and moving," Panarin said. "There was a moment where I just sat down for 10 minutes and really thought about it, and my heart told me that New York would be the better place for me."
He meant the Rangers in particular, although the Islanders also made a strong push to get him. Panarin said the energy of playing at the Garden excites him.
"I can't wait for the first game," he said. "It's unfortunate that we have to wait so long until the season starts."
The Rangers open the season against the Winnipeg Jets at the Garden on Oct. 3. Panarin likely will be at left wing on a line with center Mika Zibanejad, who led the Rangers in goals (30), assists (44) and points (74) last season, NHL career-bests across the board.
"Obviously we have a plan of playing these two guys together and whether you're 27 or 35 or 37, you want to continue to get better," Quinn said. "Both these guys will continue to improve, want to improve and want to be the best player they can possibly be. I get the sense that [Panarin] certainly isn't satisfied with where he is in his career. He wants to get to the next level, as does Mika."
Quinn tried to downplay Panarin's addition, saying it doesn't mean the Rangers are changing course, echoing the sentiment delivered by general manager Jeff Gorton and president John Davidson on Monday.
The Rangers have added Panarin to go along with Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich up front, but they still plan to play young forwards, including 19-year-olds Kaapo Kakko (No. 2 pick, 2019 NHL Draft) and Vitali Kravtsov (No. 9, 2018 NHL Draft), Brett Howden (21), Lias Andersson (20) and Filip Chytil (turns 20 on Sept. 5).
"[Panarin] is part of what we've been trying to do over the last year and a half," Quinn said. "I know sometimes when you make a big splash in free agency people may assume that we're going off track but we're not. This is another piece in the direction we're going.
"He's as dynamic a player as there is in the League. He's a winger but he does a lot of things that a center can do. He controls the play on the ice. He does a great job carrying the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, and boy when he's on the ice you've got to know where he is because from an offensive perspective he creates every time he's out there."
Quinn said Panarin should bring personality and flair to the Rangers on and off the ice, key ingredients the coach said was lacking for most of last season, his first in New York. The Rangers finished 32-36-14 with 78 points, 20 behind the Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
"Any time you add a player of this caliber everybody gets a little taller and their chest sticks out a little further, you have a little bit more swagger," Quinn said. "If you're going to be a great team you've got to think you're great. That doesn't mean you're arrogant, but you have to have a little bit of a swagger to you and this guy will certainly give us more swagger."
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