Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov has winning instincts

Artem Anisimov has seven goals and 13 points in 19 games this season. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Artem Anisimov can't explain exactly what he's trying to do when playing alongside Chicago Blackhawks wingers Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin.

He just does it.

"I don't know, actually," the 27-year-old Russian Anisimov said. "I don't think about this stuff. I just go on the ice and play."

He was just playing when he knocked the puck to Panarin as he was cutting to the net for a goal against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday. He was just playing when he skated wide into the offensive zone, caught the defense off guard as he burst to the net and scored while coming across the crease against the Florida Panthers last month. He's just playing when he battles and wins pucks, shields opposing goaltenders with his 6-foot-4, 198-pound frame, while his two wingers fire off shots. And he's just playing when he puts himself in position to break up plays in the defensive zone.

Anismov's instincts have served him well. More so, they have served Kane and Panarin -- two of the league's hottest players -- extremely well.

"There's been a lot of plays this year too where he may have not gotten an assist or a goal on the play, but he could be the biggest reason we scored that goal," said Kane, who has produced 12 of his 17 even-strength points with Anisimov on the ice.

Anisimov's addition has so far worked out better than Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman even imagined. Bowman had his eye on the center for years, and he was close to trading for him last season. The deal fell through, but Bowman got another shot in late June.

When it became apparent Bowman and Brandon Saad weren't going to agree on an extension after last season, Bowman turned to the Columbus Blue Jackets and worked out a deal to acquire Anisimov. Bowman finally had his man and the Blackhawks finally had a permanent second-line center.

"You look around the league, there's only really a handful of big centermen in the league," Bowman said. "Maybe five or 10 that are 6-3. ... He had been someone we had watched and we liked. You rarely get the chance to acquire those guys because teams that have them tend to keep them.

"He's still got the prime of his career ahead of him here. It's a very important position I think for us to have somebody. It's hard to break in at center. Like sometimes those 21-year-old centers, it takes them a little bit. He's already gone through that learning curve. He's sort of ready to take on a big role on the team."

Bowman made sure Anisimov was interested in a contract extension before the trade, and the two sides agreed on a five-year, $22.75 million extension, which runs through the 2020-21 season. Anismov's agent Mark Gandler didn't have to sell his client much on the Blackhawks either.

"Just like Stan was looking for a match for his team, we were looking for a match for Artem," Gandler said. "We felt, knowing the organization well, we felt that it would be a match. It was a no-brainer to put it together."

The trade came at a perfect time for Anisimov. He felt a change was needed after three seasons with the Blue Jackets. Last season was especially frustrating for him because of injuries. He missed two months of the season because of a torn triceps muscle.

And his numbers also dropped as he had seven goals and 27 points in 52 games -- down from 22 goals and 39 points in 2013-14. He already has eight goals and 14 points in 20 games this season.

"It's a great opportunity to start over," Anisimov said. "It's like a new chapter in my life to get traded here. It's obviously like a good team, like everyone wants to play on this team. I was happy."

The Blackhawks have had a revolving door at center on the second line in recent years. Since coach Joel Quenneville decided to put Kane and Jonathan Toews on separate lines in 2013, Kane has played with an assortment of centers. Dave Bolland was his main center in the 2012-13 season, Michal Handzus in 2013-14 and Brad Richards in 2014-15. Altogether, Kane played with 10 centers in those three seasons.

Richards and Kane clicked last season, but Quenneville wasn't always sold on Richards' defensive game. Richards didn't get a long look at second-line center until nearly 20 games into the season. Anisimov earned Quenneville's trust in that respect in the preseason.

"I think we liked him right away," Quenneville said of Anisimov. "I think that line had a little bit of chemistry right off the bat being together. I think it's an important position for us, and he's been a good fit. But we like his overall game, not just with the puck. Defensively, he's been very useful."

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock also acknowledged the defensive part of Anisimov's game before a recent meeting with the Blackhawks. Hitchcock even went as far as comparing Anisimov to another Blackhawks forward who is respected for his all-around game.

"I think he's just a solid two-way player," Hitchcock said. "He's a lot like [Marian] Hossa. He's a guy, he doesn't make mistakes. He's smart on the ice. He's smart [with] positioning. Whoever he's playing with, because he manages the middle of the rink so well, he's going to [make] look good. He fits with those guys because he manages ice. He's more than willing to go down low and work in his zone and help out. I think he surprises people with his determination. He's a strong player, goes to the net hard. He's just a good add."

Among those many little things Anisimov does this season, he translates between Kane and Panarin, who is also Russian and speaks very little English. Anisimov has felt at home with the Blackhawks partly because he's had fellow Russians Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov as teammates. The three of them often hang out.

The second line's early success, of course, has also helped Anisimov's transition to a new team. He has found playing alongside Kane, who leads the Blackhawks with 31 points, and Panarin, who is second on the team with 21 points, to be easy.

"It's simple," Anisimov said. "I think it's simple because everyone brings something to the table on the ice. We just connected somehow when we played.

"[Kane] has a great skill obviously. He's one of the most dangerous guys in the league. He sees the ice so well. He can make plays. He can do whatever on the ice, just play the game. I knew [Panarin] a little bit before. I know what he's capable of doing and it's helped me here how he plays. They're kind of similar players in most aspects. I have fun playing with those guys."

As for what Anisimov brings to that table, he didn't have an answer again.

"I don't know," Anisimov said. "Just do something. Just play hockey, you know."

Kane and Panarin know.