Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the Rangers following a story from Russia alleging that the 2020 Hart Trophy finalist beat up an 18-year-old girl in Russia in 2011.
Per Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the allegations out of Russia may be linked to the 29-year-old winger’s public criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Rangers released a statement Monday morning following the report, stating that "Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story. This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events."
Panarin, who recently returned to the Rangers after recovering from a lower-body injury, had recently spoke out against Putin, showing his support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Instagram post last month, posting a photo of Navalny and his family with a caption “Freedom for Navalny.” Navalny was in a Moscow detention facility for allegedly violating his probation from a 2014 embezzlement case.
In the story from Russia, which includes the allegations of assault from 2011, Panarin's former coach and known Putin supporter Andrei Nazarov claimed Panarin was out at a hotel bar with teammates following a loss, and Panarin "sent the 18-year-old citizen of Latvia to the floor with several powerful blows." Nazarov also claimed that Panarin was eventually let off the hook following a bribe of 40 thousand euros.
Panarin typically spends his offseasons in Russia, his home country, but has often been critical of the Russian government under Putin.
The Rangers had lost four straight games before Panarin returned from injury, and had won two in a row since his return, with Panarin logging three points over those two games. He has five goals and 13 assists through 14 games this season.
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1