Whenever a player is traded, no matter how loved, there’s an instinct to try and justify how his loss won’t be as big as your first reaction indicates. Sure, there are trades that are just so bad you simply can’t talk yourself into them (hi there, Trevor Daley). But for the most part, you’ll always run for some shelter of information that makes you feel like your team won a given a trade. Even though a perfect trade is one where both teams benefit, but we don’t live in that world and this is a capitalist society, dammit.
So a little of that went on here when Artemi Panarin was dealt to Columbus for Brandon Saad. Yes, Saad is actually younger and yes Saad has something of a more all-around game. We commented on Panarin’s shoosty-tendencies at the end of last year. How his feet didn’t move quite the way they did his rookie year and instead he was becoming more and more Ray Allen waiting for his corner three. That works when LeBron or Patrick Kane can kick it out there for you. But is that really the case?
Even if you look at simply the back-half of last year, when the eye-test told you that Panarin had become something of a pitch-machine at the left circle, the numbers don’t always back that up. Panarin’s Corsi was still 52.9%, and his scoring chance percentage a healthy 51.9%. However, if you believe in high-danger chance percentage as something you should count, Panarin’s sunk to 46.6% in the second half of last year.
It’s also vital to remember that Panarin started a paltry 10% of his shifts in the defensive zone. That’s serious sheltering. So perhaps his attempts and scoring chance positivity really should have been higher, and there’s no way that opponents should have been generating more high-danger chances when the Good Time Boys were out there considering they had to travel 180 feet most of the time to do it.
But that was always the case with Panarin. Even in his rookie year, when he played more of the ice more intently, he generated more attempts and chances but the quality of chances always tipped to the opponents. His xGF% in his two years were 45.9 and 47.9. In comparison, Brandon Saad’s were 53.3 and 55.2, and he wasn’t starting almost all of his shifts outside of the defensive zone nor did he have the playmaker that Panarin did.
It’s obviously not that simple. Panarin is always going to outshoot what his numbers say, because of that ridiculous release and accuracy of his shot, one-timer or not. Panarin individually was slated to only score 10.5 and 12.1 even-strength goals the past two years, based on how often and where he gets his chances from. He put up 16 and 18 even-strength goals. Panarin doesn’t have to out-chance or out-high-danger-chance his opponents to outscore them, given his lethalness.
What was encouraging about Panarin last year is that early in the season, he did still tear a hole in the Earth when skating with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, neither of whom had a game geared to simply getting him the puck. The three of them put up a 55.4 CF% together in about 180 even-strength minutes together. And both Toews and Hossa saw their CF% fall 12-14 points without Panarin. Give Panarin talent around him, and he’ll produce. That’s not really in question.
Still, we’ve never seen Panarin skate with the kind of talent Alex Wennberg and Nick Foligno are. And his coach isn’t one for indulging freelancing, which could be a problem. Maybe Wennberg blossoms with having this weapon on his line for the first time. Then everyone wins. Maybe Panarin’s tendency to just stand still and wait gets worse, which will be high comedy for everyone outside of Columbus. But there do seem to be a lot more questions around Panarin than Saad.