Artemi Panarin Returns to Rangers Practice After Taking 2-Week Personal Leave

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2021

New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since taking personal leave from the NHL team on Feb. 22.

ESPN's Emily Kaplan reported Panarin stepped away from the club indefinitely after Andrei Nazarov, his former coach with the KHL's Chekhov Vityaz, alleged he was involved in a physical altercation with a woman in Latvia a decade ago.

The Rangers described the allegation as "clearly an intimidation tactic being used against [Panarin] for being outspoken on recent political events" in his native Russia.

The KHL said it received no information about an incident involving Panarin as described by Nazarov and the NHL hasn't acted on the allegation because of the lack of "corroborating evidence," per Kaplan.

Panarin has been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and generated worldwide headlines in July 2019 when he did an interview with Russian YouTube outlet Vsemu Golovin (via Sportsnet) in which he called out Putin for the country's poor conditions:

"I think he no longer understands what's right and what's wrong. Psychologically, it's not easy for him soberly judge the situation. ...

"I am not saying this because I see any kind of profit for myself in this. I want the people to live better, for teachers and doctors to have better salaries. I don't want some ballerinas [Panarin is referring to the ultra-patriotic former dancer Anastasia Volochkova] to say, 'If you don't like it here, you can leave!' This is raving madness! Everyone has left already, all the brains are gone. This shouldn't be happening."

He added some fellow Russians make the mistake of treating Putin as a "superhuman" and said there's "no question there is someone better" than the current president.

Nazarov is a Putin supporter, and the Russian president also counts the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin among his backers.

Panarin recorded 18 points (five goals and 13 assists) in 14 games before taking the leave of absence. He finished third in voting for the Hart Trophy, the NHL's MVP Award, last season after tallying a career-high 95 points.

New York's next game is scheduled for Thursday night when it visits TD Garden to face the