New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin will be taking a leave of absence after a Russian newspaper article alleged he assaulted an 18-year-old woman in 2011.
The team released a statement Monday, with Panarin denying any assault occurred.
Andrei Nazarov, Panarin's former coach with the KHL's HC Vityaz, made the allegation. Nazarov and Panarin have been at odds over the Rangers star's criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Panarin is perhaps the highest-profile Russian athlete to speak out against Putin, the authoritarian leader who has had several critics in the country die under suspicious circumstances during his time in office.
“I think he no longer understands what’s right and what’s wrong,” Panarin said in 2019. “Psychologically, it’s not easy for him to judge the situation soberly. He has a lot of people who influence his decisions. But if everyone is walking around you for 20 years telling you what a great guy you are and how great a job you are doing, you will never see your mistakes.”
Panarin joined the Rangers ahead of the 2019-20 season and has been their best player since his arrival. He has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 14 appearances this season.