Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the New York Rangers in response to a story being reported in Russia alleging he had a physical altercation with an 18-year-old girl in Riga, Latvia in 2011.
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the Rangers said in a statement Monday. “This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events. 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.”
Panarin has been vocal through social media in his support of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader in Russia against president Vladimir Putin.
“We are completely supportive of Artemi Panarin and the Rangers and will continue to monitor the situation.” the NHL said in a statement.
The allegations are being made by former NHL forward and current Kontinental Hockey League coach Andrei Nazarov, according to reports. Nazarov was Panarin’s coach for Vityaz Podolsk in the KHL during the 2010-11 season at the time he alleges the incident occurred.
Panarin leads the Rangers with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 14 games this season. He missed two games with a lower-body injury.
The 29-year-old scored a career-high 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists), tied for third most in the NHL, in 69 games last season and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy voted as the League’s most valuable player.
He’s in the second year of a seven-year, $81.5 million contract he signed with the Rangers on July 1, 2019.
The Rangers have won two straight games, including a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, when Panarin had two assists. They are sixth in the MassMutual East Division with 16 points (6-7-3) and seventh in points percentage (.469).
New York is scheduled to visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).