Blue Jackets' Artemi Panarin to test free agency after agent switch

Columbus Blue Jackets leading scorer Artemi Panarin has fired his agent, Dan Milstein, in favor of Paul Theofanous, the agent of teammate Sergei Bobrovsky, and said he will test free agency this summer.

Panarin issued a statement Friday that read, "I have decided to hire Paul Theofanous as my agent. He is very experienced, and I'm confident he will serve my interests best going forward."

The Russian winger held a rare English-language media session with reporters on Friday in Las Vegas, where the Jackets take on the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. He used that opportunity to explain why he has opted not to sign a new contract with Columbus before the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline.

"It's one life, one chance for free agency, and I want to test free agency," he said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. "[They] have a chance [to sign me], but we'll see what happens in the summer. I want to still [consider] this season and help the team win the Stanley Cup."

Panarin, 27, has 20 goals and 40 assists for 60 points in 51 games this season. Since 2015, he's seventh in the NHL in points scored. Columbus acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks in June 2017 with the hope that they could convince him to be a franchise building block. Instead, Panarin said he intends to test the market as an unrestricted free agent, prompting massive speculation that the Blue Jackets could move the coveted winger before the trade deadline.

The Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators and New York Islanders are among the potential suitors at the trade deadline. It was previously reported that Panarin wishes to play in a larger market than Columbus on his next contract. He purchased a condo in Miami last April, prompting speculation that the Florida Panthers could be on his radar.

As for the Blackhawks, Panarin was asked if he missed Chicago and didn't answer for several seconds, according to the Dispatch.

"I still enjoy it in Columbus right now. No thinking about Chicago," he said. "It's a good team, and of course I miss friends. Friends like me. I know that. [Patrick] Kane likes me. It's a good team."

Theofanous is Panarin's third agent in just about two years since he fired Tom Lynn for Milstein in 2017. Milstein issued a statement on Panarin's behalf on Jan. 28 after trade speculation heated up, saying, "We have informed the team that we are willing to discuss Artemi's future after the season."

About a week later, Milstein was no longer the agent to have those discussions.