Rangers: What changes did Artemi Panarin make to his game to lead a dominant season?

New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at Madison Square Garden
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Artemi Panarin is off to his hottest start while donning a New York Rangers sweater. The 32-year-old forward leads the team in goals (26), assists (31), points (57), points per game (1.46), and shots (164). He is also tied for third in the league in multi-point games with 19. What has Panarin done differently this year that has made him so valuable to the Rangers leading him to be an early candidate for the Hart Trophy?

Artemi Panarin is firing (the puck) on all cylinders

Through 39 games this year, Artemi Panarin leads the Rangers in shots on goal with 164. To put it into comparison with last year, he had 177 shots through the entire year. What’s different from last year?

In the past two seasons, Panarin was the one on his line tasked with being the play-driver, carrying the puck into the offensive zone, and creating scoring chances for his linemates.

While he was certainly great at doing so, it took away from creating his own and using his elite shot and release. In all of last season, Panarin only created 33 high-danger chances for himself according to Natural Stat Trick

So what has changed?

The short answer: the star left winger isn’t doing everything for his line.

“More lanes, more time, more open ice. I’m getting open more. My partners are playing (well) and they’re finding me.”

via Vince Z. Mercogliano of Lohud.com

Bread is able to get set up in the offensive zone while his linemates (Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafrenière) lug the puck, and he can find soft zones in the defense. This has allowed him to create 32 individual high-danger chances thus equating to more scoring chances and shots on goal.

Goals, goals, goals: Panarin leads the Rangers

Through 39 games this season, Panarin’s goal total (26) has almost eclipsed his total from last year (29) and his career high (32).

Banking off the last section, Bread’s been able to find the back of the net more times in fewer games because of the high volume of shots he’s taken. When talking with Vince Mercogliano of Lohud.com about his game this year, Panarin said:

“In the beginning, I was successful with the goals. After that, I started feeling it.”

via Vince Z. Mergoliano of Lohud.com

It comes as no shock to fans that Panarin has been able to find the back of the net as much as he has this year. One of his best attributes as a player is his elite shot and quick release.

His goal against the Washington Capitals from December 27th highlights his quick release perfectly. With the puck barely on his stick, Panarin was able to coral it and get a shot off right over the glove of netminder Darcy Kuemper. His 26 goals have accounted for 19.85% of the 131 goals that the Rangers have scored this year.

The Rangers are a powerhouse in the Metropolitan Division this season, due in large part to the success of Panarin. The Bread Man has the Rangers sitting atop the Metro as true Stanley Cup contenders this season as he turns in the best campaign of his career.