Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Artem Anisimov: Long Term Answer Or Trade Bait?

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Artem Anisimov is a 22-year-old second year center for the New York Rangers who has shown both flashes of brilliance and periods of ineffectiveness with particular slumps on the offensive end of the ice.  Overall this season Anisimov has contributed ten goals and twelve assists while playing 15:38 per game in 47 games.  At that pace Anisimov would be expected to end the year a line of 17-21-38 which would make for a respectable second season.  The question for today though is simple: Is Artem Anisimov part of the future or trade bait for a bigger fish?

Following a strong close to his rookie season there was a clamoring for Anisimov to move up in the lineup to a more offensive position where he could better display his offensive gifts.  At the start of this season he got that chance playing on the second line with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan in what quickly became the Rangers best line.  Anisimov made the most of this opportunity recording six goals and eight assists in the team’s first 17 games this season.  In just about every game Anisimov was a force on both ends using his improved speed and strength to be more involved in all aspects of the game and it appeared as the Rangers had finally found a top flight center. 

With that kind of start the expectation levels for Artie were raised to another level as he was showing not only the flashes of skill as he did as a rookie, but consistent production and impact. The problem is that since that point the game has regressed significantly both in terms of impact and production where Anisimov has only accounted for four goals and four assists in the last 30 games.  That production would not have been good enough coming into the season for the talented center and certainly is not up to par after the play he displayed early in the year.  While the focus is currently on Marian Gaborik for his lack of finish and impact right now Anisimov is another one of the Rangers higher skilled players who has fallen down on the job of late. 

For some the struggles that Anisimov is currently experiencing have made him eminently expendable if the team can get value back and go sign Brad Richards in the summer.  I think dealing Anisimov would be a mistake as while he has shown warts in his game in terms of consistency on the offensive end there is top end talent there and the Rangers have witnessed firsthand how it can take time for that to develop.  Brandon Dubinsky is a similar case for me to Anisimov as Dubinksy struggled for multiple years to gain a measure of consistency in his production offensively and this year at 24 finally has found that in his game. 

Among the fan base there is this dichotomy of wanting to win right now and go after big names against the backdrop of clamoring for youth and building for the long term.  It always amazes that one can call for a youth movement but then have no patience when a young player hits a bump in their progression as if they are supposed to be stars from day one.  Anisimov is young and will have some ups and downs, but his potential is clearly there as the skill is legitimate.  His improvements from last year to this year in terms of strength, play on the puck, excellent defensive play bode very well for his future he just needs to be more confident in his offensive skill.  What appears to be holding Anisimov back is that belief in his own game and confidence that he can be a dominant type of player.

The Rangers are in a stated youth movement and Anisimov certainly seems to be a key piece in that, but with the emergence of Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello the role Anisimov plays in the movement has lessened.  The team does want to build around a young core, but just because a player is young does not automatically qualify them as a member of the core or the future.  He will have another chance tonight, playing with Gaborik and Fedotenko, to get his game going again, and show why he should be part of the foundation of this team going forward.  If he fails to do so one has to wonder with the trade deadline coming and Brad Richards looming this summer how many more chances Anisimov will get before considerations of trading him away might become more serious.  Hopefully it never comes to that for trading Anisimov now would be as bad as all those ready to write off Dubinsky the last few seasons.