Winger has been critical of Vladimir Putin in pastAllegations emerged in Russia of assault on 18-year-old

New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the NHL team after allegations emerged in Russia that he beat up an 18-year-old girl in 2011.

Panarin is one of the few Russian athletes to have publicly criticised Vladimir Putin and his team suggested the assault allegations are a smear tactic to punish the player.

Related: Face off: the extraordinary power struggle between Vladimir Putin and Alexei Navalny

Retribution was feared after Panarin’s Instagram post on 1/21 in support of opposition leader Alexi Navalny with caption “Freedom for Navalny.” Panarin, who has family in Russia, has been outspoken against Putin.

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