The Breadman has risen.
Artemi Panarin was back with the Rangers Wednesday afternoon for practice in Boston after a 2 1/2-week long absence in wake of a politically-motivated article from Russia that accused the star winger of assaulting an 18-year-old Latvian woman in 2011.
It was No. 10’s first time skating with the team since Feb. 20, eight games ago, after requesting a leave of absence following the discredited allegations levied against him by his former KHL coach Andrei Nazarov.
Panarin is considered day-to-day and won’t be in the lineup against the Bruins Thursday, according to head coach David Quinn, who added that the coaching staff wants him to skate more until he is physically ready to compete.
“He was in a good place when he got here, and he’s excited to be back with us,” Quinn said of Panarin, who vehemently denied the accusations through a formal statement from the Rangers. “We’re all happy he’s here, and nobody’s happier than he is that he’s back.”
Quinn noted he plans to “focus on moving forward” and that the Rangers are “rejuvenated” to have Panarin back on the ice.
But when it comes to something as serious as assault allegations against a young woman, no matter how long ago or how dubious they are, it needs to be addressed with his teammates. Especially when it pulled Panarin away from the team for 16 days, a stretch in which the team went 4-4.
“He’s got a great relationship with all those guys,” Quinn said, when asked if Panarin has addressed the allegations in the locker room. “He’s been in contact with the players all throughout this, so nobody’s wondering what was going on. These guys are fully in his corner. They understand the situation.”
Added defenseman Jacob Trouba: “We’ve talked about it. I think everyone’s kind of on the same page with where we’re at. Obviously, we welcome him back in the room, and we’re extremely excited to have him back. It’s pretty much business as usual.”
As for where Quinn plans to insert Panarin in the lineup when he’s ready to play, that’s still up for discussion.
Panarin has skated on the second line for a majority of the season, next to Ryan Strome and a variety of right wingers such as Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Pavel Buchnevich. But in his last game before his leave of absence, the 4-1 win over the Capitals, Panarin was bumped to the top line next to Mika Zibanejad.
When he took his leave of absence, Panarin was the team’s leading scorer with five goals and 13 assists through 14 games. Since then, Buchnevich has jumped ahead with seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 24 games.
The Post spoke with five of Panarin’s former 2011 Vityaz teammates, who all said they didn’t recall the alleged incident from Dec. 11, 2011 in Latvia. The KHL released a statement to ESPN saying there was never a report filed against Panarin.
Additionally, the NHL never opened up a formal investigation into the accusations against Panarin.
Nazarov’s allegations were made shortly after the 29-year-old Panarin offered up his support of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a recent Instagram post. Nazarov is a well-documented supporter of current Russian president Vladimir Putin and has repeatedly spoken out against Panarin’s political stance, as well as other Russian athletes who criticize Putin’s regime.
“He walked in at breakfast and everyone was pretty happy to see him,” Trouba said. “We heard rumblings that he might be meeting us in Boston, so everyone kind of kept it quiet, but I think everyone was excited. Obviously great to have him back and happy to have him back in the locker room. I think the team’s obviously excited to have him back around.”