New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team after a Russian newspaper published allegations from Panarin’s former KHL coach that the winger beat up an 18-year-old girl in 2011.
In a statement, the Rangers said “Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story.”
Panarin, a 29-year-old Russian native who notched 95 points last season for New York, has spoken out against Russian president Vladimir Putin in the past. Panarin criticized Putin in a Russian-language interview in 2019, and he shared his support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Instagram post in January.
To the Rangers, Panarin’s political statements led to the allegations of a fight with a girl in a Latvian hotel bar in 2011.
“This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events,” the Rangers’ statement read. “Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team. The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”
New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 22, 2021
Andrei Nazarov, Panarin’s former coach at HC Vityac in the Russian hockey league, has repeatedly criticized Panarin’s criticism of Putin, according to the New York Post. The story from the Russian newspaper cites Nazarov, who said a criminal case was opened against Panarin in Latvia.
But Nazarov said the police didn’t pursue the case after someone allegedly paid them off.
Panarin was traded from HC Vityac about a month after the alleged assault. He began his NHL career in 2015 with the Chicago Blackhawks before joining the Columbus Blue Jackets for two seasons. Fourteen games into his second season with New York, Panarin had racked up 18 points.
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