Artemi Panarin takes leave from Rangers, denies allegations from Russian news outlet
New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave from the organization.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the decision was made in the aftermath of a recent report in a Russian news outlet which alleges that Panarin "beat up" an 18-year-old girl in Russia in 2011.
Panarin's former coach with the KHL's Chekhov Vityaz and long-time NHL enforcer, Andrei Nazarov, brought the claims forward, saying it set off a "pattern of evil behaviour," according to Russian reporter Slava Malamud.
Through the Rangers, Panarin has since denied the allegations via a statement, calling the story a "fabrication" and a "clearly an intimidation tactic" for his outspoken political beliefs.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 22, 2021
Former Washington Capitals reporter and current Washington Post foreign correspondent in Moscow, Isabelle Khurshudyan, reports the Panarin story made headlines in Russia on Monday, but perhaps failed to garner the sort of attention that would force the star forward to step away, calling it "odd."
The Rangers state in their release that Panarin is "obviously shaken."
As the Rangers, Khurshudyan, and many others have eluded, Panarin, 29, has been outspoken in his opposition of Russian president Vladimir Putin, recently posting support for opposition leader Alexi Navalny on Instagram, writing "Freedom for Navalny."
Panarin is considered the highest-profile athlete to speak out against Kremlin.
This is pretty significant: New York Rangers superstar forward Artemi Panarin showing support for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny ahead of planned Saturday protests all over Russia. Hashtags this Instagram post “Freedom for Navalny” https://t.co/9rwcP87oKK pic.twitter.com/8zZyjEjOeO
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) January 21, 2021
Fears of retribution were present at the time for Panarin, whose family still resides in his native country, while fellow NHL star, Alexander Radulov, removed his "like" from Panarin's post shortly after it was published, presumably as a precaution.
Malamud notes that Nazarov is considered a "major Putin shill" and that the report is definitely a political hit job, but importantly notes that it doesn't mean the story isn't true.
For their part, the Rangers are looking to find the source of what they call "unfounded" allegations.
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