If the Chicago Blackhawks’ flailing penalty kill is the weirdest part of the 2016-17 season so far, then the production of forwards Artem Anisimov and Richard Panik would have to be a close second. They’re currently tied for the league lead in goals scored with six apiece, alongside luminaries like Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
So, what gives?
Anisimov and Panik have never scored like this before. Anisimov has had a pair of 20-goal seasons, but his career-high is just 22. Panik entered this season with 25 NHL goals in his entire career. Through just nine games, they’ve combined for 12 goals, which makes them the most productive one-two punch in the league so far.
It’s been incredible to watch. Both tend to score their goals in similar ways — via smart positioning and good timing, as much as raw puck skills — and have benefited from playing with elite talents like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Artemi Panarin. They’ve been in the right places at the right times, which is a great way to score goals.
Now let’s get to the bad news, though. One of the best ways to score goals in the NHL is to put lots of shots on net. The players who regularly finish at the top of the league leaderboards are high-volume shooters who constantly push the game and put pressure on the defense. Think of someone like Kane, who rarely goes a game without creating a few scoring chances.
That’s not the type of player that Anisimov or Panik is. And while their early production this season has been crucial to the Blackhawks’ 5-3-1 start, you can rest assured that Chicago will need to start finding goals elsewhere soon. Anisimov and Panik are both positioned for major regression in the coming weeks.
Let’s start with Panik, who is really going to see a dip soon. He’s scored six goals on TWELVE shots this season, which is an incredible 50 percent clip. Panik is a pretty good shooter — his career rate was 11.6 percent entering this season — but nobody in the NHL shoots 50 percent. Heck, nobody in the NHL shoots 30 percent.
And more than anything, shot percentage is the biggest difference for Panik from past seasons. He’s averaging just 3.8 shots per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play, which would easily be the worst rate of his career. Panik has largely benefited from playing next to Toews, a good fit for his style, and good luck that’s simply unsustainable.
Panik hasn’t scored a goal in three games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his production takes a real dip from where it’s been at. If he starts shooting 11.6 percent for the rest of the season with his current shot rate, he won’t even reach 20 goals by the end of this season.
Anisimov is in a similar position to Panik, albeit not to the same degree. The center has scored six goals on 16 shots this season, good for a 37.5 percent success rate. That, like with Panik, is destined to go down.
However, there are underlying numbers indicate that Anisimov should be right in line for 20-25 goals again assuming he spends most of the season with a talent like Kane or Panarin. His overall production won’t hold up, but Anisimov’s 5-on-5 shots per 60 is similar to where it was last season. He’s also scored all six of his goals at even strength despite spending time on the power play, so he could get a goal or two back there even as his 5-on-5 scoring rate dips.
Additionally, Anisimov has had some bad luck with blocked shots this season. This is actually something that’s plagued several Blackhawks (and probably demands closer inspection), but Anisimov’s “shot through rate,” or the number of his shot attempts that went on goal, is just 41.7 percent during 5-on-5 play this season. During his career, that figure has been between 51-55 percent, so there’s another area where Anisimov might be able to help fight off his declining shot percentage and maintain some semblance of his amazing start.
The numbers make it pretty clear, though, that Anisimov and Panik are going to regress. Just looking at the shot percentages of the six players tied with them at six goals makes it obvious they’re not in the same class. Matthews (16.7 percent), Stamkos (17.6 percent), Laine (20.7 percent), Wayne Simmonds (19.4 percent) and Jonathan Marchessault (19.4 percent) are all below 21 percent (which is still high), while Anisimov, Panik and Alex Killorn (35.3 percent) are the super-obvious regression candidates.
Those goals still count, and the Blackhawks definitely wouldn’t have won some of those games without Anisimov and Panik’s production. But don’t get too excited because other guys will need to start stepping up soon.