Chicago Blackhawks rookie left wing Artemi Panarin might be a few years older than other first-year players in the NHL this season. But the fact that he's been able to process, adjust and excel on the smaller ice in his first season in North America is a pretty remarkable feat nonetheless.
Panarin, 24, also has been the perfect complement for right wing Patrick Kane on Chicago's second line, centered by Artem Anisimov . When Kane and Panarin are on the ice together at even strength they control more than 50 percent of shot attempts.
"The chemistry between Panarin, Kane and Anisimov is off the charts," Blackhawks senior director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NHL.com. "That line was put together in training camp and here it is still. [Blackhawks coach] Joel Quenneville is known for fixing lines but the chemistry on this line has been dynamite."
When Kane went on his 26-game point streak, Panarin had seven goals and 24 points to play a vital part. He also had a 61.8 shot attempts-for percentage and 2.90 points per 60 minutes during that stretch.
"We had high expectations but he landed in the country running and he's still running," Kelley said. "I think it speaks to the kid and his talent and work ethic. He didn't come to the NHL to see America; he came to play."
That level of play makes him the front-runner for the Calder Trophy at the midway point of the season.
"He's scored some big goals and I'm sure you'll see that more as his career goes on [with] the Blackhawks," Kane said. "He'll become a better player. Sky's the limit for that kid."
Some might point to the fact that prior to joining the Blackhawks in 2015-16, Panarin spent two seasons playing with men in the Kontinental Hockey League for SKA St. Petersburg. Though he did excel, keep in mind his success came on bigger ice in a league that many believe is close to but not equal to the caliber of the American Hockey League.
It's also worth noting that Panarin is 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, so it isn't as if he can bull his way through defenders. He must find creative ways of working around the opposition, either beating them 1-on-1 or taking them wide. Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel and Panarin rank Nos. 1-2 in average ice time among rookie forwards, but Panarin leads all rookies in goals, assists, points and power-play points.
Panarin had his second multiple-goal game in as many days on Jan. 6 in a 3-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to become the first Blackhawks rookie to have back-to-back multiple-goal games since Pavel Vorobiev (Oct. 7-9, 2005).
Dylan Larkin , Detroit Red Wings: The 19-year-old continually finds ways to excel no matter who happens to join him on offense. He has spent a lot of time with center Henrik Zetterberg and right wing Justin Abdelkader , but has proved his versatility recently by playing alongside center Riley Sheahan and right wing Brad Richards .
Larkin ranks first in the League in plus/minus. He also is first among rookies in game-winning goals and second in goals while averaging just less than 17 minutes of ice time for first-year coach Jeff Blashill. He might be the fastest skater among all rookies this season.
"I think having speed is huge, especially for a young guy," Larkin said. "When you have speed, you don't have to think as much because your speed can get you out of trouble and make up for a lot of mistakes you might make. For me, when I'm not skating I'm not on my game. When I'm skating I'm making plays and putting defensemen on their heels and that opens up space on the ice."
Max Domi , Arizona Coyotes: Domi continues to excel on the top line alongside center Antoine Vermette and right wing Mikkel Boedker . The 20-year-old is tied for first among rookies in primary assists and third in points, power-play points and points per 60 minutes (2.58). The son of retired NHL player Tie Domi has played a big role in helping the Coyotes stay in the hunt for their first berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four seasons.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres; Anthony Duclair , LW, Arizona Coyotes; Shayne Gostisbehere , D, Philadelphia Flyers