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Artemi Panarin’s Blue Jackets debut showed he’ll be fine without Patrick Kane

The former Blackhawks winger set a team record in his first game with Columbus.

New York Islanders v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

One of the most interesting moves of the 2017 NHL offseason was the Blackhawks’ trade of Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad. A classic hockey deal between two teams looking for a better fit, it also presented the Russian winger with his first opportunity to get extended NHL playing time away from Patrick Kane.

Panarin made his name in Chicago over the past two years by putting up huge numbers next to Kane. Their undeniable chemistry made for some thrilling hockey and turned the former KHL winger into an NHL star. However, the Hawks were also devolving into a one-line team that couldn’t get past the first round of the playoffs.

Thus came the trade, and on Friday, Panarin finally made his debut with the Blue Jackets. If it was any indication for how his first NHL season away from Kane and the Hawks will go, Columbus is in for a lot of fun.

The show-stopping winger racked up three assists on the top line with center Alexander Wennberg and right winger Cam Atkinson in the Blue Jackets’ 5-0 win over the Islanders. Nobody in team history has recorded three points as quickly.

That’s the kind of element Panarin will bring to Columbus. He’s a dynamic player who can take on defenders one-on-one or hang near the circle waiting to rear back for a one-timer with a quick, compact release. Saad may have a bit more well-rounded game, which is why the Blackhawks wanted him back, but Panarin brings his own unique set of skills to a team that could use them.

The Blue Jackets didn’t have an elite pure scorer like Panarin before. Wennberg is a fantastic playmaker and Atkinson can finish good chances with the best of them, but Panarin is the kind of player who can singlehandedly make a play out of nothing. He has a level of explosiveness and creativity that few players can match, and it was readily apparent in Columbus’ season opener.

There will still be bumps for Panarin as he adapts to his new role. He was one of the NHL’s top 5-on-5 Corsi players over the past two years, but was near the bottom for Columbus at 42.9 percent on Friday, per Natural Stat Trick. It’s just one game and not worth looking into too much, but it’ll be interesting to see whether he can continue to put up exceptional possession numbers now that he’s in a different environment.

Playing with Kane in Chicago also didn’t just mean sharing time with a special talent. Joel Quenneville also gave that line an offensive-minded role with very few zone starts in the defensive end. His usage was a bit more balanced Friday, so that’ll be another area of adjustment for him.

When it comes to points, though, it’s fair to figure that Panarin will continue to put up huge numbers in Columbus. He’s going to get the big minutes, both at even strength and on the power play, and he has a good playmaker in Wennberg to set him up for juicy chances. The numbers he put up in Chicago were never just about the circumstances he was in. He elevated Kane’s game, too. We knew all this before, but seeing it actually happen against New York was a good reminder.