In the wake of a politically impactful article published in Russia on Monday that led Rangers forward Artemi Panarin to walk away from the team, the Blueshirts as an organization are fiercely supporting their star player.
The post Larry Brooks first reported that Panarin, the Rangers’ top scorer, would take a leave of absence from hockey after his former Vityaz head coach Andrei Nazarov told a Russian news outlet that the former Moscow Region club forward assaulted a 18 year old Riga, Latvia after an away match in 2011.
Nazarov, a well-known supporter of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly and publicly criticized Panarin for his outspoken beliefs about the Putin regime.
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies each and every allegation in this fabricated story,” the Rangers said in a statement.
Ryan Strome, who has frequently played along the same lines as Panarin since signing with the Rangers in July 2019, said it was a hectic and emotional morning at the team’s practice facility in Tarrytown, NY. He said the team was still processing the situation. while adding that everyone intends to support Panarin in whatever way they can.
“We see him behind closed doors every day and the personality and the way he carries himself, his character and his attitude,” Strome said Monday. “He is an incredible person in every aspect. I think for us, just give it this time, give it the space and whatever happens, whatever the timeline, we will welcome you with more than open arms. “
Head coach David Quinn pointed to the Rangers’ statement, calling the Russian article a clear “intimidation tactic” that has “rocked” Panarin when asked about the situation. He said the team spoke Monday morning about Panarin being away for an indeterminate period of time before heading out and having a “great practice.”
“It goes way beyond hockey,” said Quinn, adding that he was proud of the way his players handled the difficult situation. “We are here to support you. We’re here as a team and these guys look out for each other on and off the ice. “
The 29-year-old Korkino, Russia native has publicly opposed Putin in recent years and as recently as last month. Panarin declared his support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a high-profile critic of Putin, on Instagram last month ahead of planned protests in his homeland.
Panarin is likely concerned for the safety and well-being of his family, who still reside in Russia.
“Before these guys were professional athletes, they were human beings,” Quinn said. “The fact that they play a professional sport does not mean that they are immune to the problems and difficulties of life. I think sometimes people lose sight of that. “
During Kaapo Kakko’s first brief stint on the COVID-19 Protocol roster, which was due to a false positive, Quinn was quick to say that he hoped the 2019 second overall pick would return to the lineup soon.
When asked about Kakko’s current status on Monday, the third-year coach did not appear to have a timeline for the return of the 20-year-old winger from his current designation to the COVID-19 Protocol list.
“Okay,” he said. “I wish I could give you a better answer, but I’m not sure when he will be able to return.”
With Filip Chytil (upper body injury) hitting the four-week mark of his 4-6-week injury timeline, Quinn said the 21-year-old center was expected to start skating again soon.
“He’s making progress,” Quinn said. “Soon he will be skating again. We hope to get it back sooner rather than later. “