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Panarin ready for first return to Columbus with Rangers

Forward, thrilled to call New York home, will try to enjoy facing former Blue Jackets teammates

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Artemi Panarin will wake up in Columbus on Thursday, in a hotel in his former home city, his first game day against his former team since signing with the New York Rangers on July 1. 

It's going to be different, maybe a little weird for Panarin, who plans to go to his old neighborhood and walk the streets he walked for two seasons with his girlfriend and dog before playing against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-O, MSG2, NHL.TV).

"The same places, same roads," Panarin said. "I'll try to enjoy it."

The forward has been walking new roads this season, waking up every day feeling the energy of New York City. It has been unique and perfect all at the same time. 

The 28-year-old, in the first year of a seven-year, $81.5 million contract (average annual value $11.64 million), said he's fascinated by all the different restaurants, shopping and culture that define his new home.

"I like the opportunities in New York," he said.

Video: Get to know Panarin in this edition of Skates Off

Other than on the ice at Madison Square Garden, Panarin can be found with his girlfriend and their dog in Central Park, or maybe sipping coffee inside The Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue, a stone's throw away from the southeast tip of Central Park.

"I enjoy that atmosphere, old school, jazz music," Panarin said. "I probably know it from watching lots of movies when I was a kid. Of course, I didn't have my first TV until I was maybe 17 years old or 18 years old, but still watched American movies and I know that hotel.

"I'm really happy here."

New York has the hold on Panarin he was hoping for when he signed. Panarin, in turn, has been everything the Rangers are paying him to be, maybe even more, leading them with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 26 games and scratching the surface of the impact he has made on his new team, which has used eight players 21 years old or younger this season.

"He's hilarious," Rangers center Ryan Strome said. "He's got a great sense of humor. He's awesome and he likes to goof around and have fun, but he's always ready for the game. He's always asking me, 'How do you feel? Are you ready to go?' He's a gamer and it's fun to be around a guy like that." 

Panarin's last hockey memory in Columbus was after the Blue Jackets were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by losing Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round to the Boston Bruins on May 6. The Blue Jackets stayed on the ice to salute the crowd, waving as they chanted "CBJ! CBJ! CBJ!" Panarin was the second-to-last player off the ice, ahead of captain Nick Foligno, and applauded and waved on his way down the tunnel.

It was his way of saying goodbye.

"I knew I'll change teams and I just tried to say 'Thank you' to the fans," Panarin said. "I knew, probably not 100 percent, but a big chance. I tried to say thank you for the season, for a great two years. I wanted to do that because maybe I wouldn't have had a chance anymore."

Less than two months later, Panarin was taking pictures in front of Madison Square Garden, picking his No. 10 in the Rangers dressing room, being introduced to fans and the media in New York.

It was a whirlwind change he wanted, and his presence on and off the ice has been influential throughout the organization.

"The thing I think about is some of the reaction that our players have on the bench during the course of games when he does something," New York coach David Quinn said. "Literally guys are elbowing each other and saying, 'Did you just see that?' That's the type of player he is, and there aren't many players like that in the League."

Video: WSH@NYR: Panarin wires wrist shot home for PPG

Henrik Lundqvist, New York's goalie since 2005, said he has never played with a player as skilled as Panarin. 

"It's amazing how he finds the openings and how accurate he can pass the puck," Lundqvist said. "There are a lot of guys who can see the opening and they try the pass but the pass doesn't get there. He manages to get pucks over sticks, through skates. It's impressive." 

Strome, Panarin's most consistent linemate this season, said Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane may be the only other wing in the NHL who controls the game like Panarin.

"I mean, like, this guy, he's got the puck all game," Strome said. "That right there says so much about his skill. He's got amazing instincts for the game. His deception, when the puck is on his stick, you have no idea if he's going forehand or backhand. You see him make all these moves and how he's open all the time and constantly in the right spot, it's impressive to watch." 

Then there is Panarin's work ethic, which is becoming legendary around the Rangers.

"Listen, we all acknowledge his skill set," Quinn said, "but this guy is so dynamic and the things he's doing away from the puck, blocking shots and being responsible defensively and coming back hard. He's a winner. We're feeding off a lot of the things he does."

Lundqvist said, "He's the real deal."

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