When Artem Anisimov was signed to a three-year, $3.28-million-per-year extension this offseason, Coulmbus Blue Jackets‘ GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he liked what he saw from the gritty Russian. While Kekalainen made it known he was pleased with Anisimov’s play through words and cash, he made sure to deliver a challenge to Arty himself. He said of Anisimov, “He’s a good player, but we think he could be a great player.”
We might just now be seeing flashes of what Kekalainen saw in him all along.
Ever since Team Russia‘s indescribably disappointing finish in Sochi, Anisimov has been a on a tear. He has scored six goals since his Olympic return, not including the clutch shootout goal he had against the Minnesota Wild yesterday. It seems like every time the man’s on the ice, you can’t help but to notice number 42 wreaking havoc in all areas of the ice.
Just how great can he be though? Where is his proverbial glass ceiling?
Let’s start off with what we do know: Anisimov is 6-foot-4 and has 200 pounds of hurt to throw around coupled with respectable speed. He’s simply superb on the penalty kill, and has offensive upside, with point scoring coming in fits and tantrums. He’s got fantastic hands, making him a sound play maker. His shot is certainly above average, but that backhand is downright filthy in the best way possible. Simply put, he’s Mr. Versatility on quite a versatile roster.
All the above are assets any team in the NHL would love to have on board, but does that make him great? His defensive shutdown qualities and two-way mindset are in the upper echelon — no doubt. His offensive skill set are good most of the time and fantastic on occasion. We seem to currently be immersed in a relatively prolonged, jaw-dropping period, but what brought this about?
The only person inside the player’s head is Anisimov himself. No one can say for sure what brought about this powerhouse play of late, but the most glaring variable are the 2014 Winter Olympics. Arty’s play prior to Sochi was mostly decent, but this offensive dynamo, hair-on-fire incarnation is a recent development.
Was the pressure of playing for the highly-coveted gold medal weighing on his mind prior to Sochi? Was he playing a bit tentative prior to the Winter Games for fear of injuring himself before a dream tournament?
His play of late seems to lend a lot of credence to the latter. Many of Anisimov’s goals have come from lowering the shoulder and driving to the net, with and without the puck. He’s paid the physical price a time or two for his efforts, but he padded his stats and the Blue Jackets’ win column all the while. Offensively, Anisimov is at his best when he couples his east-west dekes with a north-south drive to the net.
His play when the puck hasn’t been on his stick has also noticeable improved. He’s been forcing his will on other players. The best example of this is when he battled three Florida Panthers along the sidewall, won possession of the puck and tickled twine after a few nifty moves.
The best Anisimov is an aggressive Anisimov. He has finesse skills, but it’s only when he couples them with a beast-mode mentality does he grab headlines like he has as of late.
Is there room for improvement? At age 25, sure. How much, how great he can be is anyone’s guess. Reaching his glass ceiling isn’t necessarily a matter of building upon or adding new skills though. If he wants to be Kekalainen’s vision of a great player, he needs to do one thing.
The key in all of this is consistency. That’s where Anisimov’s untapped greatness is to be found. If he consistently uses his imposing frame to drive the net, if he consistently fights like a madman for pucks, the Jackets may very well have a future 30-goal scorer who can shut down many of the best in the league.
Now that Sochi is behind him and a berth in the playoffs are distinct possibility, there seems to be an extra gear in Anismov’s play. If he can prevent himself from downshifting, he’ll go from a solid, though streaky, player to one of the most respected and feared two-way players in the league. Superstar may be a stretch, but All-Star is within reach.