NYRANGERS.COM - There are so many things, Rangers President John Davidson said, that make Artemi Panarin a perfect fit for the New York Rangers.
There's his offensive prowess. There's his underrated leadership.
But when it comes down to it, Davidson said, there is one factor that stands out above the rest:
"Artem's the type of guy that loves the stage. He loves big moments."
So what better fit for him than Madison Square Garden, the biggest stage of all in the NHL?
"I think when you see him play, the fans are going to enjoy it because of the style he has to his game," Davidson said on Monday, after the Rangers had signed the coveted free-agent winger to a seven-year contract. "He can be electrifying at times."
Davidson recalled one big moment in particular that Panarin had on the big stage at MSG. It was a game Rangers fans doubtlessly remember well: It was Fan Appreciation Night, the final home game of the 2018-19 regular season, and the Rangers were pitted against Panarin's Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets desperately needed points in order to reach the playoffs, and they found themselves tied with New York with just over five minutes remaining in regulation. Panarin scored the go-ahead goal with 5:33 left in the game. The Rangers restored the tie with seven ticks left on the clock, courtesy of Panarin's countryman, Pavel Buchnevich.
And after a back-and-forth overtime period, it was Panarin who scored the game-winner in the shootout, perpetuating his team's postseason hopes.
Those moments, Davidson said, are the moments Panarin lives for. And those moments are the moments that will doubtlessly render him beloved in his new home.
"I think there's something special about Panarin and the way he plays the game and the way he looks at the game and the way he thinks about the game," Davidson said. "Just in watching him play in big spots, he just seems to love it."
That certainly is one of the key reasons Panarin served as the primary free agent target for Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, who acknowledged on Monday that the Russian playmaker has long been a component of New York's ideal plan.
Gorton didn't know if it would happen. But he sure wanted it to.
"I think that as you look at free agency, there were very few players that we looked at that would be part of what we wanted to do and accomplish," Gorton said. "This is a guy obviously we set out to acquire, and thankfully, it all worked out."
Panarin, who has registered 320 points over the course of his 322-game NHL career, wasn't born a superstar. As a kid growing up in the small town of Korkino, Russia, he had to work mercilessly for every break he got.
Davidson - who became well-acquainted with Panarin over the last four years as Columbus' President of Hockey Operations - told the story of a young kid who was raised by his grandparents and "would either take long rides in a beat-up car with his grandfather to get to practices or play games when he was very young, or he would take the bus." When Panarin took the bus, Davidson said, his grandparents would sew money into the inside waistband of his pants so he wouldn't be robbed as an eight, nine, or 10-year-old traveling alone.
When Panarin's skates didn't fit right and he didn't have the means to buy new ones, Davidson said, he would wear layers and layers of socks, or sometimes even a pair of sneakers, inside the skates just so he could stay upright on the ice.
"That might be one of the reasons why he has such great balance in his skating stride," Davidson mused, "because of all that stuff that he did.
"It's really quite a story of where he's come from to where he is today. He's a humble kid."
That humility is another one of the many reasons Gorton and Davidson were intent on making Panarin a Ranger.
Panarin knows how to work. He knows how to train. At 27 years old, he is in the perfect middle ground between being one of the young guys and one of the veterans. As such, he can have a pivotal effect on the many, many young players who figure to populate the Rangers' 2019-20 roster.
"It's something we've thought about a lot over the last week or so, about the effect on the entire group," Gorton said. "Obviously, we have some Russian young players coming into pro hockey here, and some guys who have been here, so I think it'll be positive. From what I know and talking to JD and everybody else about the player, he's a guy that's an infectious personality. He makes players better, and he's going to help us in a lot of ways with a lot of different players."
In May, the Rangers signed Russian standouts Vitali Kravtsov (19), Igor Shesterkin (23) and Yegor Rykov (22) to their entry-level contracts. But they're hardly the only ones who can be impacted by a player of Panarin's caliber and demeanor.
Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren are all players aged 24 or younger who spent time with the NHL club last season - some more than others - who can all take benefit from the leadership Panarin brings to the table.
"It's hard to win in this league - it's really hard to win in this league," Davidson said. "And when you put these pieces together, some of them pop sooner than others. We've got a lot of youth. We want Artem to be a part of this. And when these young players pop, he's still going to be in his prime, and I think he's excited about that. So I just think it's a win-win for him and for our hockey club."
The Rangers are excited to have Panarin. That much is clear. But by Davidson's account, Panarin is equally as excited to be a part of the Rangers.
"He just loves playing," Davidson said. "Now, knowing that he has a seven-year contract in place, he's going to be able to move to New York, be able to enjoy what New York has to offer, which is a lot of very terrific stuff - excellent stuff - and then play in an atmosphere that's electric. He's mentioned about Madison Square Garden to me before, asked me what it was like and all this stuff in the past because I was an ex-player who played here. I mean, there's a lot of great places to play in this league, but he was interested in the big city, in Madison Square Garden and the history of the Garden. I just sense that this is something he wants to achieve and be a part of."
This truly is, as Davidson said, a win-win for both sides. Panarin gets the bright lights and the big city - his new home. The Rangers get their man, a point-per-game sniper who immediately changes the complexion of the roster for the better.
When Panarin was a little kid wearing sneakers inside his skates in Korkino, he probably wasn't thinking about wearing a Blueshirt one day.
But now that he will be, doesn't it all seem just a little bit fateful?
"He knows hockey," Davidson said. "He knows it's an Original Six team. He knows it's New York City. He knows it's Madison Square Garden.
"He stuck to what he thought he wanted to do, and right now he's a New York Ranger, and we couldn't be happier."