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Panarin returns to Rangers, practices after leave of absence

Timeline for forward to resume playing unknown, was away since Feb. 22

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Artemi Panarin returned to the New York Rangers and practiced Wednesday for the first time since taking a leave of absence Feb. 22.

The left wing left the Rangers in response to a story reported in Russia with allegations that have not been corroborated of him having a physical altercation with an 18-year-old woman in Riga, Latvia in 2011.

Panarin will not play at the Boston Bruins on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TVAS, NESN, MSG2, NHL.TV) because Rangers coach David Quinn said he needs more practice time.

"We're glad to have him back," Quinn said. "When he's going to play again, we don't know. Obviously, he's ready to go physically, he's just started skating. I want to focus on moving forward here. We're excited to have him back. The guys certainly are rejuvenated having him around and were happy to see him on the ice."

Panarin (18 points; five goals, 13 assists in 14 games) was not made available for comment Wednesday after practicing at TD Garden in Boston. The Rangers are 4-4-0 in his absence.

"He'll skate again tomorrow, so as far as I'm concerned, he's here and just getting ready to play," Quinn said. "To me, he's all in, ready to go. He's been off the ice for a while, so we've got to get him game ready."

Panarin joined his teammates for breakfast at the hotel Wednesday. Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba said the players had heard rumblings he could be joining them in Boston.

"We kept it quiet, but everyone was excited," Trouba said. "It's obviously great to have him back. Happy to have him back in the locker room and the team is excited to have him back around."

The allegations against Panarin in Russia were made by former NHL forward and current Kontinental Hockey League coach Andrei Nazarov, who was Panarin's coach with Vityaz Podolsk in the KHL.

The Rangers issued a statement Feb. 22, saying Panarin "vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story."

The statement added, "This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events" in Russia.

The NHL offered its support of Panarin and said it was going to monitor the situation.

Panarin has been vocal through social media in his support of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader in Russia against President Vladimir Putin. Nazarov is known as a Putin supporter, according to reports.

Quinn said Panarin is in a good mental state.

"He was in a good place when he got here, and he's excited to be back with us," Quinn said. "We're all happy he's here, and nobody's happier than he is that he's back."

Quinn said Panarin was in constant communication with his teammates throughout his time away.

"Nobody's wondering what was going on," Quinn said. "These guys are fully in his corner. They understand the situation. The fact that he's got such a great relationship with all these guys has made all of this a lot easier."

The Rangers (10-11-3) lost two games in a row at the Pittsburgh Penguins by a combined 9-3. They are sixth in the eight-team MassMutual East Division.

"He's definitely a leader," defenseman Ryan Lindgren said of Panarin. "As a young guy, he's someone you look up to. In the locker room he's a guy that keeps it upbeat and gets us going. We missed his production and what he brings on the ice, but there's so many different elements that he brings off the ice. He's a fantastic teammate."

Tweet from @NYRangers: What���s up, everybody, how���s your Wednesday going

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