Artemi Panarin’s message to New Yorkers and Rangers fans is simple and heartfelt.
“I am just praying that all the people are healthy,” the brilliant winger told The Post on Sunday. “Everyone should stay safe and stay home, for sure. Health is the most important thing for everyone.
“When this has passed, then it will be time for hockey.”
The conversation with Panarin was conducted on a speaker phone, with his girlfriend, Alisa, on the call and acting as translator when necessary. Panarin has spent the COVID-19 induced-pause that went into effect on March 12 at his residence in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but will return shortly to his home in Connecticut, where he will ramp up his training.
“I ordered a hockey net and plastic ice so I can add more to my workouts and be more prepared if we are able to start again,” said Panarin, who had former Columbus teammate and current Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and his wife as houseguests in Florida. “So far, I have been working out in the mornings, then it’s time for breakfast, then we watch movies, and, then, whatever we do the rest of the day.
“I think probably like everyone else.”
Panarin said that he checked in on his relatives in Russia as news reached him of the pandemic. All are healthy.
“I called to explain they should get all of their groceries and do everything they had to do so that they would be able to stay home. I have tried to take care of them from here,” the 28-year-old said. “I told my aunt and my cousin that I would send money for them so they would not go to work and have a chance of getting infected.”
Panarin’s generosity was manifested by his donation 10 days ago of 1,500 N95 masks to the Hospital of Special Surgery in Manhattan. Bobrovsky made a similar contribution to hospitals in south Florida. Their friend, the Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov, was part of his team’s donation of N95’s to Northwell Health.
“I heard on the news that the healthcare workers had an urgent need for masks and were in danger without them, so I thought that would be a great way to show support,” Panarin said. “It was not a big deal for me. It is really the smallest thing I could do. I am very happy to be able to help in some way.”
Panarin said that he has been in frequent contact with David Quinn by cell phone, he and the coach conversing in general terms about health and family, not about hockey-specific matters.
He has FaceTimed with Ryan Strome and said he has attempted to get in touch with Mika Zibanejad but has not been able to get through, because, “Maybe he has a new number in Sweden … or maybe he is always so busy.”
Panarin was last on the ice on March 11 in the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime defeat in Colorado. So, more than a month now for the Hart Trophy candidate.
“In a normal offseason, I take three weeks off before I start my skating and workouts in the gym,” Panarin said. “So this is the longest I have gone. That’s the reason I ordered the plastic ice.”
But even while off for what is now more than a month, the winger said that he does not believe he would have too much time to get ready if, as he hopes, the season can be completed in some form this summer.
“If they called us back right now, and that is not happening, but at this point, I think it would take me two weeks to get into good shape where I could play,” Panarin said. “If it’s two months from now, and I have that time to be working out on the plastic ice, maybe one week. That’s for me. It might not be the same for everyone.”
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When the lights went out, Panarin had recorded 32 goals, 63 assists and 95 points. He was third in the Art Ross race, two points behind Connor McDavid and 15 back of Leon Draisaitl. He was tied for second with McDavid in assists, two behind Draisaitl. And the Rangers were in the midst of a playoff race, in 10th place, two points out of the final berth but at a games-played disadvantage.
When Panarin looks back on the season … well, he does not do that. He is holding out hope that the league can get back on the ice this summer, though he is as uncertain as everyone else about whether that could become a reality.
“The first thing is that I want to play and hope we can find a safe way to do that,” Panarin said. “There are so many different rumors and possibilities about what could happen, like playing in a different city without fans and staying in that one place, that I don’t know what to think.
“You hear so many things. There is no certainty. I am waiting to be told something definite. But if we play, it would be unfair if the Rangers don’t have the chance to be in the playoffs. If [the NHL] goes straight to the playoffs, the Rangers deserve to be there.
“We will see. The most important thing is for people to be safe and healthy. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and being with our fans. I hope it is soon.”