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Forward Panarin impressing at Blackhawks camp

by Brian Hedger

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It hasn't taken long for Artemi Panarin to catch the attention of fans and coaches alike in the Chicago Blackhawks' first two days of training camp at the University of Notre Dame.

Playing left wing on a line with highly-touted Finnish center Teuvo Teravainen and fellow Russian forward Viktor Tikhanov, Panarin has shown high-end skill in three scrimmages held at Compton Family Ice Arena.

He scored a goal Saturday during 5-on-5 play that tied the game for his team, set up two goals in 3-on-3 play and has shown great vision thus far. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has noticed.

"I liked the Panarin kid," Quenneville said. "For the first time seeing him, I like his anticipation, patience [and] skill set. Looks like he'll be alright."

If that continues through the remainder of camp and in preseason games, there's a good chance Panarin will start the season as one of Chicago's top nine forwards. He might even earn a spot in the top six, depending on how quickly he adjusts to the smaller ice surfaces in North America.

The main rink at Notre Dame is wider than an NHL sheet, but the practice rink isn't. Until camp shifts back to Chicago on Monday, that's the only place Panarin will get to experience what it's like having less space to work.

It's not his first time dealing with that issue either.

Panarin previously played on smaller rinks in Canada during the Canadian Hockey League's Super Series, which features select Russian junior players against all-star teams from the three CHL leagues.

"I didn't really have any problems [then]," Panarin said, communicating with reporters through translation provided by Tikhonov. "[It] was a little tough, because I don't feel 100 percent, but I hope the next coming days I’ll get back in my rhythm."

Panarin said he sustained an injury while training this off-season, but feels that it's almost healed. He didn't specify what it is or if it's an issue with his upper or lower body. The way he's played thus far, it hasn't slowed him up.

The only thing that has is the English language, which he hopes to conquer in quick fashion.

"I'm kind of walking [around] a little lost," Panarin said, again through Tikhonov. "I'm not really in my place. I spend most of my time in the hotel and on the ice. I really need to start getting the language down to start feeling like myself again."

Until then, he's got built-in translators in Tikhonov and Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov. Panarin played with Tikhonov for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and played for Russia with Anisimov in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Fedderation World Championship.

Tikhonov, whose grandfather was the legendary former coach of the same name, speaks fluent English after growing up in California, moving to Kentucky with his family and playing for the Arizona Coyotes in a previous NHL stint.

Anisimov picked up English playing previously for the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets.

How nice is it for Panarin to have two countrymen on the same team?

"It's 100-percent helpful, because when I was signing the contract, I was alone and I thought I could figure it out," Panarin said. "But when I came here and started living here a little bit, [I realized] it would be really tough without some friends around to help me translate a little bit. It's tough coming over and not knowing too much of the language."

For now, he'll let his play do most of the talking.

After scoring 26 goals and logging 62 points in 54 regular-season games for SKA St. Petersburg last season, Panarin is eager to see what he can do in the NHL.

"I'm like 100 percent focused on it," he said. "Everything is going to depend on how I play. I'm going to do everything I can to prove that I belong here. This is the best league in the world, and the best players play here. I wanted to really challenge myself. It's also a great place to learn and improve my skills."

Playing with the elite talent the Blackhawks have may help speed that process, starting with the center of his current line at camp.

Panarin didn't need Tikhonov's translation when asked a question about playing with Teravainen, whose playing style and build are comparable to Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane.

Panarin, whose play also draws Kane comparisons, smiled when asked.

"Very nice," he said, in perfect English.

As for the comparisons between his talent and Kane's?

"There's no way for me to compare to Kane," Panarin said via Tikhonov. "Me to Kane is like [getting] to Russia by walking. He's a really top player and I definitely want to learn from him."

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