After practices and after games the past two seasons, Artem Anisimov would usually be sitting in the back left corner of the Blackhawks dressing room, sitting next to Artemi Panarin, chatting in Russian, occasionally giggling. But with Panarin in Columbus, Anisimov is the last Russian standing on the Hawks roster.
“I’m going to speak English better this season, for sure,” he joked.
Anisimov didn’t only lose one of his best friends on the team, he might have lost his primo gig as Patrick Kane’s center. Nick Schmaltz appears to be running away with the second-line center job, leaving Anisimov as the third-line center, likely with Ryan Hartman and another winger.
Anisimov shrugged it off.
“I expect a lot to happen [in camp], and my mind-set was to be ready for anything,” he said.
Last season was a mixed bag for Anisimov. He matched his career high in goals with 22, but missed the last month of the season with a leg injury. He returned in time for the playoffs, but admitted he was still battling through the injury during the four-game sweep against the Nashville Predators. He repeatedly used the word “disappointment” to describe the way things ended. So while the long summer helped him get back to 100 percent, it was as much a curse as it was a blessing.
“It’s tough mentally because you cannot wait to go play again,” he said. “On the other hand, you’re rested, healed and ready to go.”
Anisimov’s loss could be the Hawks’ gain. As a third-line center, Anisimov could give the Hawks some much-needed depth down the middle. He’ll also likely take on a larger role on the penalty kill, with Marcus Kruger, Marian Hossa and Dennis Rasmussen gone.
“I hope so,” Anisimov said. “It’s a privilege to play on all the special teams in this league, and I’ll take that responsibility.”
Touted rookie Alex DeBrincat skated with Schmaltz and Kane on Sunday, and will get a longer look heading into Tuesday’s preseason opener at Columbus. Joel Quenneville has liked what he’s seen. It’d be an awfully small line, but one loaded with skill.
“That’s the lottery spot,” Quenneville said. “[DeBrincat’s] instincts are high, high end, [and he’s] playing with a couple of guys who have the same type of instincts. The reading and the anticipation off of plays — they’ll be communicating without having to communicate. They know where it’s going to go next. That’s something that’ll only get netter as they get a little more accustomed to playing with one another. … The upside of that [line] could be really big.”