New York Rangers star forward Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence after a former coach in his native Russia alleges Panarin beat up an 18-year-old girl in 2011, the New York Post reported Monday.
The allegation appeared in a Russian newspaper and is believed to be politically motivated, per the Post. Panarin, 29, has been outspoken against the regime of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the Rangers said in a statement. “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 last month took to social media to support Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying “freedom for Navalny.” Navalny is serving time in prison after an attempt on his life was made via poisoning.
Panarin, who has five goals and 18 points in 14 games this season, still has family in Russia.
The two-time all-star and NHL top rookie in 2015-16 Calder Memorial has 153 goals with the Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks.