The defending champion Chicago Blackhawks continue to prove they are among the best teams in the NHL, winning 16 of their last 19 games to lead the Western Conference in points (76). Part of the reason for the Blackhawks' surge has been Artem Anisimov, a center who has done the intangibles and a whole lot more.
Anisimov joined Chicago along with Jeremy Morin, Marko Dano and Corey Tropp in a June trade that sent Brandon Saad, Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The very next day, the 27-year-old Russian inked a deal worth $22.75 million over five years.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive for the two-way center. In his seventh season, Anisimov has been very consistent this season on both sides of the ice, racking up 18 goals and 14 assists in 55 games while playing tough defense. But the goal-scoring output is a sharp uptick from last season when he scored just seven goals over 52 games. Anisimov's career high is 22 goals, and that looks like it will easily be shattered by the way he's playing this season.
It helps that head coach Joel Quenneville has shown more confidence in Anisimov than previous coaches, giving him an average of 18:25 of ice time per game. It's a noticeable increase over his career high of 16:36 in 2013-2014, and a sign that he has overcome some injury setbacks.
After Saturday's victory over the Dallas Stars in which Anisimov scored a short-handed goal, Quenneville acknowledge that he "has been a very big part" of the team this season. Quenneville can be forgiven for not drawing such a conclusion sooner given the MVP-type season from Patrick Kane and the steady production from Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin.
Yet, it has been Anisimov who has done so many things right this year. He has three shorthanded goals this season and has quickly formed a bond with Kane and Panarin, providing Chicago with the No. 6 offense in the NHL. Anisimov has also been credited with helping Panarin, a rookie from Russia, better adjust to North American hockey.
“We’re comfortable with each other and just play the game on the ice and just see, just pass or shoot the puck,” Anisimov said in October. “We move the puck quickly in the offensive zone and just play the game.”
Even goalie Corey Crawford has been an admirer of Anisimov, who has been a solid blend of technique and positioning.
"He's got a ton of skill," said Crawford in January. "He's got a great shot and is good in tight, in front of the net. "
Like so many others, Crawford suggested that Anisimov is "overshadowed" by his more high-profile linemates. But it doesn't bother Anisimov, who smiled when asked about his situation.
“It's great. I can just go out and play hockey and have fun," Anisimov said.