3 options for the New York Rangers after losing Artemi Panarin

By Erica Commisso
Jan 16, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates after scoring a first period goal against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett /POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, Artemi Panarin announced that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the New York Rangers. It’s a devastating blow to the team, as Panarin–a dynamic forward the club acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets–was the team’s leading scorer throughout the 2020-2021 NHL season. Through his 14 game campaign, Panarin recorded 18 points–five goals and 13 assists.

On a New York Rangers squad, who have struggled thus far during the season, losing a point-per-game player is a crushing blow. It’s especially difficult considering that the Rangers’ other offensive dynamo, Mika Zibanejad, has been struggling this season. Without Panarin, the team’s scoring decreases significantly almost immediately. If they want to perform better and climb the NHL power rankings, the Rangers will have to do something to account for and cover the loss of their superstar forward.

Related: NHL power rankings – Avs reign supreme, Blues bounce back

Here are three options for the New York Rangers after losing Artemi Panarin

1. Light a fire under Mika Zibanejad

Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers
Jan 16, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrates after a goal by right wing Pavel Buchnevich (not pictured) against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett /POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

In previous seasons, Mika Zibanejad has been a 20-plus goal scorer. Last season, he put up 41 goals in 57 games–a far cry from his two on the season so far. But the Rangers’ organization knows Zibanejad is capable of more production and, in a crazy season, they could do whatever is necessary to increase his production after the loss of Artemi Panarin.

They may have to waive him to do so–like the Anaheim Ducks did with Adam Henrique. But it could make it worth their while. It would also clear up some cap room in the process. It may even allow them to pick up a sleeper player that could score a few goals.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Rangers, check out #NYR rumors, rankings, and news here.

As it stands, the team’s active leading point-getter is Pavel Buchnevich, who’s posted 12 points through 16 games, and players like Ryan Strome and Chris Kreider are generating goals for the team. They’ll miss Artemi Panarin feeding them pucks, but it’s a role Mika Zibanejad may be able to fill. At the very least, the team could rework its offense to feed the puck to the 27-year-old Swede, who could break his slump and find the twine if given more of the spotlight.

Giving Zibanejad the primary scoring responsibility on the team could put pressure on him to find the back of the net, or it could reverse the bad puck luck he’s had so far. It could backfire and see the Rangers plummet further into the basement of their division, but it is the cheapest, easiest option to deal with the Artemi Panarin loss.

Related: NHL trade rumors – Updates on latest buzz, speculation before 2021 deadline

2. Trade for Jack Eichel

Should the New York Rangers trade for Jack Eichel to replace Artemi Panarin?
Feb 15, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; NHL linesman Devin Berg (87) drops the puck for a face-off between Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) and New York Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) during the third period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

While there have not yet been official confirmations from any club, NHL rumors are swirling that Jack Eichel could leave the Buffalo Sabres. New York could be an interesting landing place for the second overall pick in 2015. His cap hit is a bit of a turn off–a whopping $10 million is a big dent in a cap-reduced, budget tight season. But assuming the organization can move Tony DeAngelo (who they’ve already said could be traded at any time) a move could be in the works.

A lot of the Rangers’ lineup signed some version of a no movement clause, but talent like Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux could sweeten the pot. Eichel is comparable to the talent Artemi Panarin possess and the cap hit is about the same. So, assuming the Rangers can have Panarin’s contract not count against the salary cap, they have a comparable player at a similar price. Considering Buffalo is in talks to extend Taylor Hall’s one-year, $8 million deal, it could be interested in writing off the season, unloading Eichel’s contract and start building for the future.

Related: NHL games today – Complete TV schedule

3. Wait out Artemi Panarin’s leave of absence

Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers
Jan 19, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates after a goal by left wing Chris Kreider (not pictured) against the New Jersey Devils during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The leave of absence is indefinite, though it’s likely that the New York Rangers organization knows more about how long Panarin will be missing from action than they’re letting on. If it’s only going to be a month or so, the club could just put him on injured reserve and wait it out, hoping that he’ll immediately slide back into the top scorer role upon his return.

Dan Rosen from NHL.com tweeted that Rangers head coach David Quinn has been in contact with Artemi Panarin, who is confident that he can return back to normal soon. In the meantime, they have two centers–Colin Blackwell and Jonny Brodzinski–on the taxi squad, and can rejig their lineup for a complete forward corps.

If he’ll be out for a majority of the season, the club could just cut their losses during an already subpar season, do nothing, and await next season. Panarin’s contract is hefty–he’s about an $11.6 million cap hit–and he’s signed through the 2025-2026 season with a no movement clause. They may have no choice but to do nothing, make small changes to their roster, and look to the future to start fresh.