Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov didn't mince words or hesitate when asked recently if this is the best season of his career.
"No," Anisimov said. "Close to being, but not good enough. Just need to improve in all aspects."
The numbers give a different answer. Anisimov is having his best statistical season, whether he will concede it or not.
Anisimov, the glue between Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane on the Hawks' second line, has 21 goals, two shy of setting a career high, and his 21 assists are six away from setting a career mark.
"You always want to score goals and make assists, but when you step on the ice, the first thing is how are you going to score a goal?" Anisimov said. "You have to find a way."
Anisimov, in his ninth season, does that by getting to the net and battling for position nightly. It's not as easy as it sounds. It requires a willingness to take a beating to screen a goaltender, to withstand multiple defenders crashing down and poking at you while you try to put home a rebound.
Then you have to prepare your body to do it all again the next night.
"It's not something everyone wants to do," Kane said. "If you put your mind to it and get there and maybe take a little bit of punishment, eventually the puck is going to find you there and you're going to get chances to score goals and make plays around the net."
"It's tough, but all the rewards are there," Anisimov said. "In modern hockey, (a lot of) goals are scored from the net front. It's hard to beat the goalie one on one. If the goalie sees the puck, he's probably going to stop it. You just need somebody to create the screens, and rebounds are all there."
Anisimov was tied with Marian Hossa for the team lead in goals until Kane passed them Thursday with a hat trick that gave him 23.
Kane said Anisimov hasn't done much differently from a season ago; he's just taking advantage of opportunities as opponents try to limit Kane and Panarin.
"There might be a little bit more focus on myself and Panarin, which is maybe freeing him up at the net a little bit," Kane said. "He scored a lot of goals by just going to the net, finding rebounds and finding passes. He's got high enough skill level where he can be patient. He can make plays and score when he gets the opportunity."
And as long as he can get his "rewards," Anisimov will keep going to the net.
"When you get the rewards, it's much easier to go there," he said, "and when you don't get the rewards, it's tough. But you just need to stick with it and it's going to be there at some point."
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