Artemi Panarin back with Rangers after a two-week personal leave of absence due to assault allegations from former KHL coach


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Matthew Breault, Assistant Sports Editor

New York Rangers 29-year-old left wing Artemi Panarin is back with the team after a 16-day personal leave of absence. This absence was following assault allegations from Panarin’s KHL coach Andrei Nazarov, who is also a former NHL player.

Nazarov, who hasn’t coached Panarin since he was a 20-year-old unheralded player on Chekhov Vityaz in the KHL, went to the Russian Tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, claiming Panarin assaulted an 18-year-old woman in a Latvian hotel bar 10 years ago. When the allegations originally surfaced back on Feb. 20, the Rangers released a statement that said Panarin “vehemently and unequivocally” denied the allegations.

Many individuals believe the allegations surfaced due to Panarin being an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last month in an Instagram post, Panarin supported Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has long been a prominent face of Russian opposition to President Vladimir Putin. The caption of the post, which is originally in Russian, translates to “Freedom for Navalny” in English.

According to the statement released by the Rangers during the time when the accusations first surfaced, the entire situation is fabricated and the accusations are an “intimidation tactic” against Panarin.

“This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events,” the Rangers said. “Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team. The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”

Now that Panarin is back just 16 days later, it leaves many wondering about the results of the investigation.

Utica College Graduate Student Miranda Cuda said it is quite possible that the accusations were because of Panarin’s political views, but she also believes the NHL didn’t investigate enough into the situation.

“I think all allegations like this should be taken seriously and looked into,” she said. “However, after hearing that the coach who is initiating the allegations is aligned with Putin, it is hard to believe that there isn’t a motive behind it. I personally think the NHL hasn’t done their due diligence because they allowed Panarin back without seeing if there is any truth behind the accusations. If it comes back that there is truth behind all of it, it’s going to look extremely bad for both the Rangers and the NHL.”

As of March 11, Panarin is back with the team practicing, though his return to the lineup is still unknown. According to New York Rangers Head Coach David Quinn, Panarin still has to get into game shape before he gets the chance to wear the red, white and blue uniforms again.

“We’ve continually talked with him,” Quinn said. “He’s all in, ready to go. He’s been off the ice for a while, so we’ve got to get him game ready.”

Since Panarin’s absence, the Rangers are 4-6 without their former leading scorer. Panarin has 18 points on the season in 14 games and he was just recently passed by his teammate Pavel Buchnevich, who now has 20 points in 25 games.

The Rangers players are excited for the anticipated return of one of their four assistant captains. In an interview with NBC Sports, Rangers Defenseman Ryan Lindgren couldn’t hold back his excitement discussing the idea of Panarin’s return.

“He’s such a positive, energetic guy. It was great seeing him, great having him back in the locker room,” Lindgren said. “He’s excited to be back and we’re definitely excited to have him back.”