Artemi Panarin has been to Madison Square Garden many times before, but on Tuesday afternoon he was seeing it under all new light. The Garden is Panarin's rink now; the Rangers' dressing room is his room, and when he walked into it for the first time on Tuesday there was a Blueshirt in there with his name on it, hanging in a stall and waiting for him, decked out with his new number -- Perfect 10.
The 27-year-old Russian had an interpreter with him, but he wanted to speak in English to say thank you, for the opportunity to become a Ranger, to the team's executives and to "Coach Quinny" for making it happen. And standing near the Seventh Avenue entrance of Madison Square Garden, he added one more thing:
"My home," he said, no translation necessary.
Panarin officially became a Ranger mere minutes after the League's signing window opened at noon on Monday, a leadoff home run on NHL free agency from General Manager Jeff Gorton that brings one of hockey's most dynamic talents to Broadway. On Tuesday, Panarin was roaming the Garden halls and greeting the Garden faithful for the first time as a Ranger. And if the anticipation of seeing Panarin suit up in a Blueshirt has you counting the days -- hours? -- until the puck is dropped on 2019-20 already, be assured you are not alone.
"I'm really happy," Panarin said, this time through his interpreter. "I can't wait for the first games and it's unfortunate that we have to wait so long until the season starts."
Video: Artemi Panarin on signing with Rangers
For the record, there are 93 days until Opening Night, Oct. 3 against the Jets at the Garden. At this same time a year ago, David Quinn was just getting settled into a new job in a new city and preparing for his first season as an NHL Head Coach. Now this summer it's been his turn to welcome in the newcomers who will add all new weapons to his bench come October, and on Tuesday he was standing next to Panarin, only the latest and most prolific among them.
Like Gorton and Rangers President John Davidson, Quinn is careful to point out that the process of building the Blueshirts, of putting together the "puzzle," is ongoing. But he knows what kind of piece his team just got, and what this kind of addition can do for everybody else.
"Anytime you add a player of this caliber, everybody gets a little bit taller and their chests stick out a little further and you have a little bit more swagger," the Head Coach said on Tuesday. "If you're going to be a great team, you've got to think you're great -- that doesn't mean you're arrogant, but you could have a little bit of swagger to you. This guy will certainly give us more swagger.
"He's a great player and a dynamic player, and those guys are few and far between."
Since winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2015-16, Panarin has averaged 80 points in his four seasons in the League; only seven NHL players have outscored him over that span. Those numbers, combined with his pure talent, combined with his magnetic personality, drew not only the Rangers to him but several other teams as free-agent suitors. The Rangers had their meeting with Panarin last week and were all-in.
"When you see him and you meet him, you feel the electricity in his personality," Quinn said. "I think guys are going to gravitate to him, and I know for a fact he's going to be a great teammate."
With multiple teams pursuing him, Panarin admitted that he had felt "a little overwhelmed the last two days."
"There was a moment where I just sat down for 10 minutes and really thought about it," Panarin said, "and my heart told me that New York would be the best place for me."
Come October, the place for Panarin is slated to be on Mika Zibanejad's left side, making up two-thirds of what figures to be a formidable top line. Quinn echoed Gorton and Davidson in expressing the kind of impact that Panarin is capable of having on some of the younger players in the Rangers' organization, some of whom are Russian too. But Panarin, 27, and Zibanejad, 26, each just completed their best statistical seasons in 2018-19, and the expectation of those two lining up together on Broadway is one of the more tantalizing prospects for 2019-20.
"Like I said at the end of the season, I think Mika was just scratching the surface. And obviously we have a plan of playing these two guys together," Quinn said on Tuesday. "Both these guys are going to continue to improve, and want to improve, and want to be the best player they can possibly be. I get the sense that (Panarin) certainly isn't satisfied where he is in his career -- he wants to get to the next level. As does Mika."
There remains work to be done and decisions to be made before next season can get started, and it is far too early to know exactly what the 2019-20 Rangers will look like. But there are 93 days until Opening Night, when Artemi Panarin will be skating on Garden ice in a Blueshirt, No. 10, and the anticipation is only going to build through the summer.
"There's a lot of optimism within the walls of our locker room and within our organization," Quinn said. "Our roster is not complete. But looking at it right now, it's exciting."