New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin has returned to practice with his team.
The 29-year-old has been absent for two weeks on leave and there is no real timetable for his return. Head coach David Quinn confirmed that Panarin wouldn’t be back in the lineup on Thursday against the Boston Bruins.
“He walked in at breakfast and everyone was pretty happy to see him,” defenceman Jacob Trouba said. “We heard rumblings that he might be meeting us in Boston, so everyone kind of kept it quiet, but I think everyone was excited. Obviously great to have him back and happy to have him back in the locker room. I think the team’s obviously excited to have him back around.”
The Rangers are a .500 hockey club without Panarin in the lineup, so getting him back as soon as possible would be a good thing.
Panarin has missed action ever since a Russian tabloid printed a questionable story about him assaulting a woman in Latvia almost a decade ago.
Notwithstanding any distracting particulars, it seems to almost all involved that the story was a fabrication designed to bully Panarin for his political views. The forward has been critical of Russian leader Vladimir Putin on social media.
The accuser was any the alleged victim but Andrei Nazarov, former NHL enforcer and former KHL coach. He acknowledged his motivation to “speak out” about the suspected incident was due to Panarin’s recent criticism of the Russian government, something Putin supporters take seriously.
The KHL says it never received a complaint about any alleged incident in 2011 and no victim has come forward. There is no known police report.
A return to the lineup – and to normalcy – is exactly what Panarin and the Rangers need right now.
“He’s got a great relationship with all those guys,” Quinn said. “He’s been in contact with the players all throughout this, so nobody’s wondering what was going on. These guys are fully in his corner. They understand the situation. The fact that he’s got such a great relationship with all these guys has made all of this a lot easier.”