Artemi Panarin’s heart was always with the Rangers

Artemi Panarin broke from the comfort of his Russian interpreter to answer a question in English, making a rather heartfelt declaration at the Garden on Tuesday in his first public appearance as a member of the Rangers.

“I’m sure I’m home,” Panarin said, with his signature smile and the brown curls springing off his head in an uncontrolled tangle.

The 27-year-old is the newest member of the Blueshirts, signing his blockbuster seven-year, $81.5 million deal on the opening of free agency Monday afternoon. His annual salary-cap hit of just over $11.6 million represents more than just a monetary investment, but a shot in the arm for an organization that is in the midst of building from the ground up in rather accelerated fashion.

“When you see him and you meet him, you feel the electricity in his personality,” said coach David Quinn, himself wearing an indelible smile as he now has quite a bit more talent at his disposal than he did a year ago, when he took the job behind the bench.

“Not only are we getting a great player, we’re getting a guy that’s got an electric personality, that is going to bring a little bit of a personality to the locker room that I think becomes infectious. And that’s something we needed. We needed a little bit more of a personality. Whether you’re Russian or not, I think guys are going to gravitate to him. I get a sense — and I know for a fact — he’s going to be a great teammate.”

Quinn made it very clear that the plan right out of the gate is to play Panarin alongside emerging top-line center Mika Zibanejad. Suddenly, the Rangers have a top line, no matter who plays on the right.

They have also added young talent in 25-year-old defenseman Jacob Trouba, so deftly traded for by general manager Jeff Gorton, who still needs to sign the restricted free agent to the eight-year deal around $8 million per that seems a formality. Then there is Harvard defenseman Adam Fox, whose rights were snared from the Hurricanes for second- and third-round picks that had been stockpiled in the consecutive years of deadline sell-offs.

And the feeling still resonated with Quinn from this most recent one, when the Rangers went into a predictable depression for the second straight year following the February fire sale.

“Especially towards the end, after the trade deadline, we lost a little bit of our flair,” Quinn said. “But [Panarin] will certainly give us that. He’s a great player and a dynamic player, and those guys are few and far between.”

Panarin, who will turn 28 less than a month into the season, always seemed destined for the big city. He comes from Korkino, a small town in Russia. He went undrafted before signing with the Blackhawks as a 23-year-old in 2015 and in the summer of 2017 was traded to Columbus, where he spent the past two seasons under the stewardship of first-year Rangers team president John Davidson.

Through an interpreter, Panarin said he “dreamt of playing for the Rangers,” adding “my heart has been here. I’m really happy and lots of emotions. Just feeling a little overwhelmed the last two days, but I am really happy.”

When free agency opened, Panarin got bigger offers from the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Panthers, but took less money to come to Broadway. Nicknamed “The Bread Man,” he had a relatively quick moment when he came to the decision where he wanted to play.

“There was a moment when I just sat down for 10 minutes and really thought about it,” he said, “and my heart told me that New York would be the better place for me.”

So now begins the time of more speculation, about what Gorton will do with Chris Kreider, if he might buy out a veteran defenseman with an onerous contract, or if he might swing another trade to add more young talent. But it’s now all in the context of having Panarin, the organization hoping he’s a bedrock to build around for almost the next decade.

“I can’t wait for the first games,” Panarin said, “and it’s unfortunate that we have to wait so long until the season starts.”