Panarin-Saad trade proves to be win-win right off the draw

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s one game…it’s an 82 game season, you can’t judge off one game, blah blah blah. Tell me something I don’t know.

I’m calling the Artemi Panarin-for-Brandon Saad deal from this past offseason a draw. It looked like a win-win for both teams when the deal was made, and the season openers for the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets only confirms that.

Saad recorded his second career hat trick on Thursday night in Chicago’s 10-1 win over Pittsburgh, skating alongside Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik while logging more than five minutes on the power play. Panarin countered with a trio of assists in Friday’s 5-0 thumping of the Islanders by Columbus. He was driving play and creating opportunities for linemates Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson against New York’s top line centered by John Tavares that was shuffled up mid-game.

Both these guys addressed a big need for their respective teams when the trade was made in June. Columbus needed a shot in the arm from the left side on its top line alongside Wennberg and Atkinson. Panarin brought just that – and rookie left wing Sonny Milano was very promising in his debut as we’re on the subject on the issue of the left side. The Jackets didn’t have a player like Panarin last season on the wing and the 25-year-old adds a whole new dynamic to their offense.

The return of Saad to Chicago, meanwhile, is the answer to what seemed to be a small identity crisis in Chicago in the aftermath of last season’s First Round sweep by the Predators. I think there was something Saad brought to that team that was never replaced after he was traded to Columbus after the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons back in 2015. It’s no coincidence that the team was in a similar identity crisis when he broke into the league in 2013 and went onto become an integral part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams. In addition to all that, Toews needed an upgrade on his left side and Saad made perfect sense given how well the two had played together during Saad’s first stint in Chicago.

So no need to overthink this. Both teams were perfect trade partners for each other given their needs. The results showed instantly in the season openers of both teams. And the results will continue to show as the year goes on.

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Wingers: 6-10

6 – Brad Marchand

The progression of this player over the past five years has been astounding. Marchand has gone from being a really good top-six option you can pencil in for 25-30 goals to a complete 200-foot forward that can play in every situation and gives you 30-40 goals. In today’s NHL, that puts you right at the top of the pack. The 29-year-old is fifth in the league in goals over the last two seasons behind Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

7 – Artemi Panarin

One of the bigger storylines around the league is the curiosity about what Panarin will look like in Columbus, away from Kane, Anisimov, Toews, and all the great options Panarin has been able to ride shotgun to in two seasons in Chicago. Panarin put up 151 points in 162 games over that span before being traded to the Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg, and a draft pick. His numbers have been pretty consistent since coming into the league regardless of who he’s skated with, so I wouldn’t expect too big a drop-off.

8 – Blake Wheeler

The promise he showed in flashes while he was in Boston has come to fruition in Winnipeg. Wheeler, who has played 697 of a possible 704 games going back to the start of the 2008-09 season (his rookie season), has emerged as a force in the few seasons. He followed up a career-high 78 points in 2015-16 with 74 last season. The 31-year-old is one of the top two-way forwards in the league.

9 – Phil Kessel

Just a nice guy that tries hard and loves the game. The thing I always say about Devils forward Taylor Hall is once he’s on a great team you’ll see how good a player he is. That was true with Kessel, who suffered through six seasons in Toronto after forcing his way out of Boston in 2009. In two seasons since being dealt to Pittsburgh, the Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cups (first team to do so since 1997-98 Red Wings, in case you didn’t hear), and Kessel has played an integral role on both those title teams. He was the best player on the HBK line with Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs before riding shotgun to 2017 SCP leading scorer Evgeni Malkin a year later. The 29-year-old has played 610 straight games, not missing a game since October 2009.

10 – Taylor Hall

Unfortunately Hall has been stuck on bad teams throughout his seven-year career, so he’s never had a chance to truly showcase how good a player he is. The lack of success in Edmonton – and last season, New Jersey – has come despite Hall’s production. The one problem with Hall has been his ability to stay on the ice. Only once has he played 82 games in a season, and he’s 87 games during his seven seasons in the league.

Thoughts Are My Own: Prayers For Craig Cunningham

Some thoughts as the short week begins:

*The hockey world was shaken to a halt on Saturday night with the news of Craig Cunningham collapsing during pregame warmups prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game against the Manitoba Moose. The game was postponed and reports on Cunningham’s condition have been mum beyond that he ‘suffered a medical emergency.’ Thoughts and prayers for Cunningham and his family. No worse time for something like this to happen (cliche, I know).

*The outpouring of tweets and well-wishes from players and people around the game speak to the type of guy Cunningham is, and the reputation he’s built for himself.

*Meanwhile..back to hockey. The Arizona Coyotes decided to send Dylan Strome back to juniors, where he’ll play for Erie. Strome, the third overall pick in 2015, had just an assist in seven games with the Coyotes while averaging 13:41 per night. He’ll play on an Otters team that features the OHL’s top two scorers in Taylor Raddysh (20-28–48) and Alex DeBrincat (20-21–41), in a league Strome has put up 250 points in 124 games over the last two seasons. It won’t hurt him. The consensus in many circles is that Strome has highest ceiling among the crop of young talent Arizona has.

*Big blow for the Rangers losing Mika Zibanejad f0r 6-8 weeks with a broken fibula. Zibanejad, traded to New York from Ottawa in the offseason, had five goals and 15 points in 19 games. His fifth goal came in Sunday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to Florida, in which Zibanejad was injured crashing into the end boards and hitting his leg at a weird angle, something seen far too often in hockey.

*Zibanejad was a valuable piece for the Rangers in the early goings. He was third among forwards behind Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello in ice-time among forwards at 16:40 per game. He centered the go-to powerplay unit with Chris Kreider and Zuccarello. At the faceoff dot, Zibanejad has been the Blueshirts best on the draw. Of the three players (Zibanejad, Stepan, Kevin Hayes) that have taken nearly 80 percent of the Rangers 1,075 faceoffs, according to puckbase.com, Zibanejad is the only one winning more draws than he loses, at a success rate of 52.4 percent. He’s taken a team-high 37 percent of offensive zone draws, winning 59.8 percent. The 23-year-old has taken 27 percent of defensive zone draws (third on Rangers), winning 51.9 percent.

*RANGERS DOWNFALL WATCH: The Rangers have four goals in their last two games while peppering 59 shots on net. That equates to a shooting percentage of 6.7 percent.

*Four straight wins for the Hurricanes. Has the trendy surprise team among preseason forecasters arrived?

*Great read in the Boston Globe on the post-hockey life of Marc Savard. He was rated ‘suicidal’ by a psychologist at Mass General, but says he never harbored suicidal thoughts. He’s back in the game, coaching the AAA Minor Bantam team his son plays for. It’s good to see he has his life back on track.

*Regina finally lost a game, falling to Victoria on Saturday in game No. 19 for the Pats. They rebounded Sunday with an 8-3 win over Vancouver. The Pats, first in the CHL rankings, set the standard in major junior for offense, with 115 goals. Defending WHL scoring champ Adam Brooks, a Toronto prospect, has eight goals and 32 points in 14 games, his 2.29-per-game output up from 1.67 last season, when he had 120 in 72. Sam Steel, who was selected 30th overall by Anaheim in this past draft, leads the Pats with a WHL-high 41 points in 18 games.

*How about Miami? The young RedHawks went into Denver for a weekend doubleheader with the top-ranked Pioneers, and came away with two ties. Freshman goaltender Ryan Larkin was plenty busy, stopping 84 of 87 pucks that came his way on the weekend. He made 49 saves on Saturday night.

*That likely means Minnesota-Duluth will take back to the top spot in the poll, going into Omaha and coming out with four points.

Game to Watch Monday Night

New York at Pittsburgh: Rare Monday night of NHL action, and lots of pretty good games at that. But this is likely the best one. Put aside the rivalry, the divisional matchup, and the fact these teams played each other in the playoffs last season. It’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers look like minus Zibanejad, if they continue to show signs of falling back to earth offensively, as the Rangers have suggested in the past few games. The Penguins are 7-1-1 at home this season.

Hat Trick Pick

Artemi Panarin: Just two goals in his last eight games. He’ll be playing Connor McDavid, whom many claim would have won the Calder Trophy over Panarin last season had he not broken his collarbone early in the season (full disclosure: not an unreasonable claim).

Blackhawks Could Be Putting New Faith in Panarin to Move Alongside Toews

The top nine is the new top six. At least for now.

It’s been a common strategy in the NHL for coaches to spread out what would be top-six forwards in recent seasons across three lines. It will almost certainly kick up this season after Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan moved top-line sniper Phil Kessel to the the third line last season en route to the Penguins run to the Stanley Cup. Kessel nearly won the Conn Smythe Trophy after being the headliner of the HBK line, skating alongside Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino.

Could Joel Quenneville be the latest to jump on the bandwagon?

Bob McKenzie is reporting that Joel Quenneville plans to spread the best of his forward group across the first, second, and third lines. A coach not known to be afraid of juggling lines and testing out new combinations, he’s willing to go as far as breaking up the left wing/right wing combo of Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, which was among the league’s most potent offensive combo a year ago. Meanwhile, first line mainstay Marian Hossa is expected to be moved to the third line to skate alongside Marcus Kruger.

So to summarize: Kane will remain to the right of Artem Anisimov – as he was for a team-high 671 faceoffs last season, according to puckbase.com – while Panarin will move up to skate alongside Toews as Hossa moves to the third line.

Of course, this could mean multiple things.

The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line that carried the offense much of the year, combining for more than 35 percent of the Hawks points with a combined 225 points. Outside that threesome, there was little continuity across the Chicago lineup. With Quenneville constantly juggling the three other lines, the Blackhawks finished the year tied 20th with Edmonton in five-on-five scoring. The Hawks had never finished lower than 14th going back to 2008-09, Quenneville’s first season in Chicago. This could just be the latest development in the search for that right combination, figuring breaking up last season’s top line could best the best for the four lines as a whole.

But here’s what this could be above all – Quenneville believing Panarin is the option on the wing Toews missed last season and Hossa, who turns 38 in January, someone just not getting the job done and suited best for a third-line role.

And the numbers back it up.

Panarin’s 77 points in 2015-16 was the 12th-highest by a rookie in NHL history, the most for a rookie since 2006-07, when Evgeni Malkin and Paul Stastny recorded 85 and 78, respectively. Patrick Kane, of course had the best year of his career. Of his 46 goals – which surpassed his previous career-high by 16 – 22 of those goals were assisted by Panarin. Twenty-three of Kane’s 60 assists, also a career-high, were Panarin goals. Of course, that could be turned around as Kane assisted on 23 of Panarin’s 30 goals.

Hossa had just 33 points in 64 games last season skating mostly alongside Toews, his worst offensive output in an 82-game season since 1998-99, his first full NHL season, where he notched just 30 points in 60 games. His 0.71 points-per-game over the last three seasons are down from the mark on 0.89 he posted through his first four years in Chicago.

As McKenzie noted, Hossa skating alongside Kruger could create a ‘high-end, two-way checking line’, adding an extra dimension to the bottom six against inferior competition.

We’ll see what it brings.