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All eyes will be on Artemi Panarin when Rangers open 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

NEW YORK -- There aren't enough superlatives to describe the season the New York Rangers are having.

But who knows where they would be in the NHL's pecking order if not for the exploits of star forward Artemi Panarin.

The veteran winger has literally done it all for the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers, and stopping -- or at the very least containing -- him will undoubtedly be opposing teams' mission in life once the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this weekend.

"He gives his all every shift," Rangers had coach Peter Laviolette said following a recent win.

The Rangers completed the regular season with a 4-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday to finish with 55 wins and 114 points -- both franchise records -- and will have home ice advantage throughout the postseason. They will face the Washington Capitals in the first round.

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin, right, skates against Islanders defenseman Sebastian Aho during the second period on April 13, 2024 at Madison Square Garden. Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite splitting four games in the regular season, the Rangers will be the odds-on favorite in the series, due in large part to Panarin, who has treated the NHL as his personal playground this season. The 32-year-old winger, who was already one of the league's better offensive players coming into the 2023-24 campaign, shattered his career high with 49 goals, and also posted 71 assists, while playing in all 82 games.

"Elite players do that with consistency,'' Laviolette said of Panarin's production. "His statistics the last seven or eight years are incredible. This year is his best. He's been doing a really good job for a really long time."  

Only legendary Jaromir Jagr, with 123 back in 2005-06, posted more points in Rangers history than Panarin's 120 this season.

If all of that is not grounds for serious consideration for the Hart Trophy, given to the league's MVP, it's unclear what is.

"Multiple things, partners, coaching staff -- the whole team,'' Panarin cited Monday as reasons for his best statistical year. "Pretty fun season. It's good to have that experience but there's no time to relax."

Indeed. The Rangers are going to need Panarin at his absolute best if they are to win their first Stanley Cup in 30 years.

Who is Artemi Panarin?

A native of Korkino, Russia, Panarin has played nine seasons in the NHL for three different teams, including the last five with the Rangers, after signing a seven-year, $81.5 million free agent contract on July 1, 2019.

Panarin has scored at least 30 goals four times, but is known more as a stellar-passing playmaker, as his six seasons with at least 55 assists attests, including a career-high 74 with the Rangers back in 2021-22.

Panarin is especially dangerous on the power play, as he amassed 44 points this season, tied for third in the NHL with three-time Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, and not far behind NHL overall points leader Nikita Kucherov (52) and Nathan McKinnon (47).

"Amazing player, game-changer with a laser shot,'' Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin said of Panarin's offensive prowess.

For his career, Panarin has 781 points in 672 regular-season games and 46 points in 57 postseason games.

He won the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie, with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16, and is a two-time All-Star.

Rangers Stanley Cup Playoffs history

One of the most recognized franchises in professional sports, the Rangers were an "Original 6" NHL team, meaning they were one of the six that operated from 1942 until league expansion began in 1967.

The Rangers, also affectionately known as the Blueshirts to their millions of fans around the world, have won the Stanley Cup four times, most recently in 1994, and have made 11 Final appearances overall, last appearing in 2013-14, a five-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

The Rangers have qualified for the playoffs 62 times. They lost in the first round last season to the New Jersey Devils in seven games.

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