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Bowman pleased with state of Blackhawks

Chicago GM thrilled by huge contributions from Kane, Panarin

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman spent nearly 20 minutes answering questions at Scottrade Center on Wednesday, and hardly any were about the Blackhawks' chances to defend their Stanley Cup championship.

Instead of discussing Chicago's matchup against the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference First Round, which begins Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN360, CSN-CH, FS-MW), Bowman addressed a wide array of subjects.

Included were questions about Patrick Kane's big season and the impact of rookie Artemi Panarin.

Kane, 27, led the NHL in scoring with 106 points (46 goals, 60 assists) and became the first American player to win the Art Ross Trophy. Kane had a career-best season to help the Blackhawks remain among the NHL's top teams. Going forward, Bowman expects more of the same.

"I think he's sort of on the same trajectory now," Bowman said of Kane. "He's looking at building on what he put up this year. I think that's what makes him dangerous, though. He's not just a guy that's always going to make the play. He can put the puck in the net himself. Part of being a good goal-scorer is you have to get yourself open and get yourself in positions where you can score. That's instinct, and he's got it better than anyone in the League."

Panarin, who played nearly the entire season opposite Kane on the second line, finished with 30 goals and 77 points.

"I'm very happy for Artemi," Bowman said. "I think first and foremost, what a performance by him to come in and do what he did as a first-year player. It's always sort of puzzled me why people look at that as a bad thing.

"He's come in and done something that's maybe not unheard of, but certainly you haven't seen a first-year player come in and finish that high in the standings for points [in a long time]. And also, you look at the impact he had on our team. We wouldn't be where we are today without his contributions. So, I'm happy for him."

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Panarin, 24, signed with the Blackhawks on May 1, 2015 as a free agent out of the Kontinental Hockey League. He drew a lot of interest among NHL teams, but chose the Blackhawks for their style of play and the opportunity to play with Kane and the ability to increase his pay through those performance bonuses.

Panarin is considered one of the favorites to win the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL's best rookie, after leading all first-year players in goals, assists and points.

"He came in here, he took a chance on us," Bowman said. "He had a lot of options. I think we owed it to him to put him in the best position to succeed, and you could tell from the beginning of the season, when he scored the first goal in the first game there for our team and there was some magic all year long. I think he played a big role in the year [Kane] had as well."

Bowman's instinct for assembling championship rosters is among the best in the NHL. After adding several key pieces prior to the NHL Trade Deadline in 2015, which resulted in a Stanley Cup championship, he pulled off more trades before the deadline this season that could prove to be important.

Forwards Andrew Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, along with veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, all were all acquired in trades, with Ladd returning to Chicago after winning the Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010.

Ladd is questionable for Game 1 against the Blues because he went back to Chicago for the birth of his child, but filled a big void at left wing on the top line. Fleischmann also has earned a regular role, but Weise and Ehrhoff begin the postseason outside of the playing rotation.

It's similar to former Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette, who was acquired near the deadline last season. Vermette began the 2015 playoffs as a healthy scratch and wound up scoring several key goals in the championship run.

"As I look at the players we've brought in, I think the one that may have had the easiest transition was obviously Andrew Ladd," Bowman said. "He's fit right in with us. For other players, it sometimes takes a little bit longer to feel comfortable. It's such a quick game that you have to play sort of just on instinct, and when you haven't been with us before, it takes time to build that instinct. You can't just turn it on like that. So I think we're seeing the other guys work through that, and as we go along here, we'll see even bigger contributions."

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