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Sit Back, Relax, and Strap it Down – ’17-’18 Blackhawks Player Previews – Artem Anisimov

It’s easy to take a guy like Anisimov for granted. When blinded by the light streaming from Artemi Panarin’s cherubic face, or from Patrick Kane’s…face, one might lose sight of the fact that wingers with over 30 goals must have a pretty decent center helping to make it all happen. It was a career year for Anisimov in a lot of ways, as we will see. But if this is any kind of fairy tale—brought back to life by the kiss of Quenneville after getting lost in the deep, dark Blue Jacket woods and getting his brain scrambled repeatedly—the clock is perilously close to midnight.

2016-17 Stats

64 GP – 22 G – 23 A

49.9 CF% – 65.1 oZS% – 34.9 dZS%

17:51 Avg. TOI

A Look Back: Let’s start with his numbers. He tied his career best of 22 goals, but this time he had 23 assists for a career-high 45 points. Playing on a line with Kane and Panarin will obviously help with those assists, but Anisimov deserves more credit than you might think. His positioning is reliably good; he’s at the top of the crease all the fucking time. Whether he positioned himself juuuuust far enough to the outside where defenders inexplicably forgot about him (yes I know he played with two offensive threats), or stood tall in the slot right at the top of the crease, or just plain old screened the goalie, this guy was constantly in the right spot for quick passes, rebounds, what have you. His stick handling was no slouch either, and his shot percentage was a muscular 21.0, far and away beating his previous career numbers.

But all was not well in Second-Line Land. Anisimov’s faceoff percentage was 45.1, and in fact he’s never broken 50%, which is a black mark for a center as far as I’m concerned. In general if a center can’t win faceoffs I’m like gtfo, and Anisimov is quite purposefully put in the offensive zone the majority of the time because, well, he sucks at faceoffs. The Hawks as a team sucked at faceoffs; they were second-to-last in the league for faceoff wins last year (I was saying gtfo a lot). Unfortunately a decent portion of that is on Anisimov. With all our questions about the defense plus our overworked goaltender, it goes without saying that he needs to fix this—thoroughly and immediately.

And then there were the injuries. Alexander Radulov pulverized his ankle in March, there was a string of injuries in the fall, and his history of concussions will follow him forever. He missed 18 games last year because of injuries, yet still managed career numbers.

A Look Ahead: For the moment, let’s assume he stays healthy. With Panarin gone one would expect that Anisimov’s numbers will decline somewhat. It’s still certainly possible that he scores 20 goals and I expect he’ll anchor the second line. He and Kane have played together enough that their chemistry should be able to survive without Panarin. And as mentioned, Anisimov understands positioning, and knowledge like that doesn’t decline with age, at least not yet.

But to what degree a decline happens will depend largely on who takes the left wing spot, and right now all signs point to Patrick Sharp. I honestly can’t imagine a worse choice. In the parade of Formerly-Beloved-but-Aging-and-Useless Blackhawks, he’s the fucking grand marshal. This preview isn’t about Sharp, but permit me another minute to bitch: if you combine his slowness and general terrible-ness with Anisimov’s questionable faceoff numbers, the consequences could be dire. For all his abilities, Kane can’t compensate for that as often as would be necessary.

Hopefully Quenneville puts Sharp there, he shits the bed for a few games, and then gets bumped to the third line. Can you believe I said “hopefully”? This is what we’re dealing with: A coach who we know full well will put an old, injury-riddled has-been on the second line, potentially ruining Anisimov’s last good year and one of Kane’s final reliably good years. Our best bet is that after it gets ugly, Hartman moves up to the second line. Or Jurco. Or Bouma. Or Hinostroza or I DON’T CARE JUST SOMEONE ELSE.

I said earlier let’s assume he stays healthy. Now for shits and giggles let’s say he doesn’t. If Anisimov sustains another concussion he could go the way of Kimmo Timmonen. If his knees or ankles get demolished again, he may come back but will be a shadow of his former self. That aforementioned knowledge of positioning won’t matter if he’s a broken bag of bones on skates and can’t get to the slot. And if he does sit out for any long period of time, we would need Nick Schmaltz to become a true 2C (another question for another preview).

Ideally, Anisimov’s fairy godmother protects him from injury and Sharp plays himself out of a spot on that line. If that happens, we may just have at least two functioning lines, my friends.

Team faceoff stats from www.puckbase.com

All other stats from www.hocky-reference.com

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