Artemi Panarin said he plans to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but the Columbus Blue Jackets forward denied he has decided which team he will sign with.
"I want to test free agency," he told the Blue Jackets website Friday, speaking publicly for the first time since notifying Columbus on Jan. 25 that he would discuss his future after the season. "There is still a chance [I could re-sign with Columbus], but I want to see in the summer if I feel there are better options."
Speaking after practice in Las Vegas, where the Blue Jackets will face the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ATTSN-RM, FS-O, NHL.TV), the 27-year old told The Columbus Dispatch, "Seriously, guys, I don't have a team; I don't have one team where I want to go. ... We'll see what happens in the summer, but right now I don't know what I want. ... I want to still [consider] this season and help the team win the Stanley Cup."
Panarin, who leads Columbus with 60 points (20 goals, 40 assists) in 51 games this season, said that whether he is moved before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, which is Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET, is a decision that will be made by Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
Kekalainen said Jan. 26 that the Blue Jackets would face hard decisions on Panarin's future and that of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who can also become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He said Columbus would try to re-sign Panarin if he became a free agent.
Panarin announced Friday he was switching agents from Dan Milstein to Paul Theofanous, who also represents Bobrovsky.
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Panarin is in the second season of a two-year contract he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 28, 2016. He has been eligible to sign a contract of up to eight years with Columbus since July 1, 2018, but informed the Blue Jackets he did not want to sign long term.
The Blue Jackets can hold on to Panarin and/or Bobrovsky past the deadline and hope the two players help them make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in which case Columbus would risk losing them for nothing in free agency. Or they can trade one or both of them before the deadline for a return of players, prospects and/or draft picks.
"I'm ready for everything, because I still enjoy and just play hockey," Panarin told the Dispatch. "If Jarmo trades me, it's get working. That's it."
Video: Panarin fires agent, wants to hit free agency
The Blue Jackets (30-20-3) are in third place in the Metropolitan Division and are tied in points (63) with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who own the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Columbus, which has never won a playoff series, is three points behind the second-place Washington Capitals and five behind the first-place New York Islanders.
Panarin insisted that if he is not traded he will be fully committed to helping the Blue Jackets win in the playoffs.
"I will play hard. That's it," he told the Dispatch. "It's not hard because teammates support me and say to me, 'We understand you.' That's it.
"Just, I'm OK [with] that and everybody is OK [with] that. Everybody understands me."
The Blue Jackets acquired Panarin from the Blackhawks on June 23, 2017, with a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft for forward Brandon Saad, goalie Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. He has 293 points (108 goals, 185 assists) in 294 NHL games with Columbus and Chicago.