Artem Anisimov was not a victim of the redundant sophomore curse in 2010-11, but he did not perform the way he wanted in his second National Hockey League season. The Russian center knows the player he can be, and he knows what he is capable of doing, and this year, although improving in all scoring categories, he did not reach a satisfactory level of achievement, both by his standards and that of the coaching staff and organization.
Anisimov was one of four Rangers to suit up in all 82 games this season, and in that time tallied 18 goals and 26 assists for a total of 44 points. The 22-year-old also had one goal in five playoff games this past April. Compared to his rookie season, Artem scored six more goals, picked up ten more helpers and totaled 16 more points. In addition to that, he was a plus-3 overall rating this season as opposed to a minus-2 in 2009-10, which means his defensive numbers also showed improvement.
Those are some pretty good stats from one season to the next, but Anisimov desires to be more than just "good" - he wants to be great. He discussed this in an interview with a Russian reporter earlier in the year, which was translated by Beyond the Blueshirts...
"Could have been even better," Anisimov said when looking back on his sophomore season. "There are very good examples in the league. Steven Stamkos, the Sedin brothers, Pasha Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sasha Ovechkin, Zhenya Malkin... I need to improve myself, to raise the level of my play."
Setting the bar as high as "Pasha, Sasha and Zhenya" is asking a lot of himself, but Anisimov knows he can be a much better player than he was with the Rangers this past season. He has the ability to dominate a game, he just needs to bring that skill out of him, which has yet to happen.
Artie was on a glorious pace in the early months of the season when he skated on a line with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. That trio worked very well together and Anisimov flourished in his time with them. One particular goal that sticks out in my head was his overtime game-winner against the Buffalo Sabres back in November. That marked six points in a six-game span for Anisimov, and the kid was really showing off his dominant capabilities at the time.
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He did not stay on that pace for the entire season, though, but I don't entirely pin that on him. Anisimov was one of those players who head coach John Tortorella enjoyed experimenting with. Torts had him on the first line, the second line and the third line. For the entire second half of the season, Anisimov skated on the third line, not with Dubinsky and Callahan. The acquisition of Wojtek Wolski and addition of Vinny Prospal returning from injury both contributed to that, but Artem was no longer in an ideal situation to succeed at that point.
Anisimov, like many, is most effective when confident, but when he is confident he is able to do things with the puck that many cannot. Anisimov has a slick pair of hands that he knows how to use to his advantage. The problem, though, is that Artie does not yet have the frame and strength to navigate into the high traffic areas of the ice where those hands would be most efficient.
Often times when Anisimov attempts to work his way into the slot, he ends up on his back after being leveled by the opposing defenseman. If he could put on some pounds (without pulling a Kyle Wellwood), and build up his strength, Anisimov will be wowing fans every night. He is one of those players who can turn nothing into something, such as the players he mentioned above like Datsyuk and the Sedins.
Once that happens, Anisimov is going to be the Rangers' secret weapon and the goals will come abundantly, I am quite sure of it. And what will make him better than an Ovechkin or Malkin is that Artem plays both sides of the puck, not just one. His coaches in Hartford and now John Tortorella have taught him the 'two-way or no way' mentality, and he has picked it up rather quickly.
Anisimov has complete control of where his game goes from here, which is a good thing, but he needs to work hard in the offseason in order to enter training camp a stronger and more powerful player in the fall. He is undoubtedly a part of the frequently mentioned "youth core", but it's now time to take his game to the next level and climb closer to becoming the player he aspires to be.