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SKA St. Petersburg’s forwards Artemy Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov intend to come over to North America this summer, as reported by Mikahil Zislis and Konstantin Nuzhdenov of the national news agency TASS. Tikhonov’s versatility and proven chemistry with Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin should immediately put him on Washington’s radar. Panarin oozes offensive talent and has high-reward potential for any NHL team.
Citing “two unrelated sources” at least one of whom is “close to the club”, the report states that Tikhonov’s depature is “95 percent certain”. Panarin hasn’t quite made up his mind yet, but “wants to give it a try in North America to grow as a player”.
“More than ten NHL clubs have expressed interest in [Panarin]”, the source told TASS. “So his departure is a possible scenario and SKA’s management is aware of that.”
The 23-year-old Panarin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov’s teammate at the 2011 World Juniors, had a breakthrough season, leading in points on a team featuring ex-NHL forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Roman Cervenka, and Evgeny Dadonov. He currently sits tied for second in the KHL in regular-season scoring with five games left. On the downside, his size (5’11”, 170 lbs) might make it a challenge to have a successful NHL career. The wording of the report on Panarin left me questioning if Panarin’s agent’s might be pressuring to SKA St. Petersburg to give his player a better deal by threatening them with defection.
While Panarin came into his own this season, Tikhonov has had a down year since playing a crucial role at the World Championships as Alex Ovechkin’s set-up man. This is the worst season in the four-year career of the grandson of the legendary Soviet coach. On the other hand, Tikhonov’s fluent English and familiarity with the North American style of play (Tikhonov lived and played in the US while his father Vasily worked with the San Jose Sharks, where he was an assistant coach, as well as with two minor league clubs in Kansas City and Kentucky) could make him a hot commodity around the league.
Another part of Russia’s top trio at the 2014 Worlds, Lokomotiv’s Sergei Plotnikov, recently told SovSport that he has a dream of playing in the NHL, but was quick to clarify that he does not have any current plans to come over.
Alexander Medvedev, deputy chairman of SKA’s board of directors, told TASS that they are currently working to sign contract extensions with both Panarin and Tikhonov, looking to keep both members of the national team in Russia.
While the falling value of the ruble could be a factor in each player’s decision, it probably wasn’t the key in either case. Panarin is coming off a stellar season (with five games left, he’s third in all-time KHL single-season scoring for players under 24 years of age). Most young players who post numbers like he did this year do give it a shot in North America. Tikhonov’s departure in 2015 has been rumored for years, and, interestingly, his contract with SKA expires just as the veteran of 61 NHL games with Arizona, who is a restricted free agent in the NHL right now, reaches UFA age. This is probably more than just a mere coincidence.
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