The news out of Russia hit Artemi Panarin like a ton of bricks. A former KHL coach, Andrei Nazarov with a political axe to grind and a history of outlandish rhetoric claimed a young Panarin assaulted a girl in 2011. Nazarov, a huge Putin supporter went after Panarin, an outspoken critic of the Russian president. Almost within hours of the story breaking the Rangers released this statement:

“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story. This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events. Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team. The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”

Panarin takes a two week leave of absence as former teammates clear his name

The usually fun-loving Panarin was obviously upset and took some time off. His primary concern was to deal with the fallout from the matter and tend to his family still in Russia. While he was handling his business, many of his former KHL teammates rushed to his defense and obliterated Nazarov’s ridiculous claims.

In one Russian interview, Mikhail Anisin a former teammate of Panarin recounted his recollection of the night in question. Why is this one so important? Because when Andrei Nazarov laid out the allegation he cited Anisin as having been there drinking “juice”.

The following is the key excerpt and translated quote:

  • “To begin with, I will say that I do not understand why politics and sports are constantly mixed up. I am totally against it. We differ from Panarin in views. Here only life will judge us. But politics has absolutely nothing to do with the events that took place in Riga many years ago. Nothing supercriminal in karaoke happened then, otherwise they write that he allegedly beat someone severely. It didn’t happen.”

Anisin did note the police were called but no money was exchanged. Especially the 40,000 Euros that Nazarov claims was paid. He even mentioned that no player would even have that kind of money on their salaries.

As far as Nazarov saying he was only drinking juice, he called that nonsense. “Guys 20-22 years old, what we drank “only juice” ?,” he said. “Panarin drank alcohol. And I, Anisin, sat next to him and drank juice? How do you imagine this? It’s funny.”

Ultimately, he made it clear that Panarin hit no one.

Panarin’s revenge should get him MVP recognition

The MVP is about the most valuable player to his team and the time last I checked Panarin doesn’t have a McDavid or Draisaitl opposite him. Just before Panarin returned to the lineup on March 13th, the Rangers had lost three in a row. They are now 11-4-3 with him back in the lineup and hunting for a playoff spot. If the Blueshirts make it in there’s no doubt who should win the Hart Trophy in my mind. It would also correct a wrong from last season as well.

Artemi Panarin scored twice last night and picked up an assist to power the Rangers offense. He’s starting to raise the MVP flag with his dominant play. So how important is the Breadman to the Blueshirts? Since his return on March 13th from a forced leave of absence due to a political hit job he has 28 points and is a +16 in 18 games.

If that isn’t enough to convince Hart Trophy voters, Panarin has recorded at least a point in 50 of the Blueshirts 58 wins since he joined the club last year. Despite only playing 32 games this season, his 46 points have him 11th overall in scoring. His 1.44 points per game however place him third behind Connor McDavid (1.64) and Leon Draisaitl (1.45).

While the allegations certainly hurt Panarin and the Rangers at the time, the Breadman has come back with a vengeance. He’s smiling and loving every minute back on the ice with his teammates. It’s infectious, and underneath it all you have to believe that he was motivated to show his enemies they couldn’t slow him down. If anything, he looks better than ever.

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This article first appeared on Forever Blueshirts and was syndicated with permission.

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