Birthdate: February 7, 1991 (Age 24)
Hometown: Martin, Slovakia
On Monday night, Stan Bowman pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Jeremy Morin to parts unknown (the Toronto Marlies), again. This time, the return was Richard Panik. The trade was an AHL player for an AHL player, so it seems like something that might fly under the radar, but it shouldn’t be overlooked.
It may not be a blockbuster, but it is pretty clear that the Blackhawks believe in the young forward. Currently, Panik is awaiting a Visa, but he, unlike Morin, will be passing ‘go’ and collecting his $200 as he heads straight to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Panik carries an affordable cap hit at $975,000, and is a relatively low risk as he is only signed through this season, and he will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Getting to Know Panik
Panik began his NHL journey when he was select 52nd overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before being drafted, he played in the Czech Republic junior league and then moved up to the pro level. He showed some potential on the offensive side early on, but he needed some time to grow and work on his defensive game.
As he made the transition to North America in 2009, he headed to the OHL where he played for two seasons with three different teams. He averaged about 23 goals and 24 assists a season between the three teams, which is a pretty nice looking upside for a young player.
He broke into the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals in the 2011-12 season, where he played 64 games and recorded 41 points (19 G, 22 A). Panik followed that up with Tampa’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch during the 2012-13 campaign. In Syracuse, Panik contributed another 41 points (22 G, 19 A) over the course of 51 games.
Panik has played 151 regular season games at the NHL level as well. He played 75 games over two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and accrued eight goals and 14 assists. Panik also played almost a full season of 76 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs (after being picked up on waivers from Tampa in 2014). There he recorded 11 goals and six assists.
This season, he has been relegated to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies as he seemingly did not fit into new head coach Mike Babcock’s big picture. He played 32 games with the Marlies and picked up eight goals and 16 assists, including the game-winning goal on Monday night just before the trade was announced.
It would seem that there is more to the story, but it is unlikely that it will ever be told. However, Toronto’s loss is Chicago’s gain. Bowman was able to ship off an AHL player with little hope of cracking Joel Quenneville’s lineup for a player who figures to slot in right away without picking up a huge cap hit. As it stands, Panik is likely to be put to the test immediately.
Blackhawks Panik Attack
For Chicago, they have gained a forward with a good deal of offensive upside. Panik is a highly-skilled, offensively inclined forward with the size and speed necessary to be a constant scoring threat in the NHL. Though as you find with many young goal scorers, he may still have a bit of work to do defensively.
He also has been known to take some penalties, some of which might be considered undisciplined. Panik will have to clean that up a bit if he wants to stay on the right side of the press box and remain at the NHL level as Quenneville does not have a lot of patience for unnecessary trips to the sin bin.
Panik has also played for Slovakia in the World Championships and made his first appearance in the Olympic Games in 2014 alongside his new teammate Marian Hossa, so it is likely the two may have developed some chemistry having played together before. He does appear to have some development to do, but he has enough upside that the Blackhawks were willing to take a chance on him.
Winning The Lottery
As it turns out, coach Joel Quenneville already has a plan for the big forward, and they involve switching the winger to the left side. Panik, it would appear is going to get his first crack at the lottery line upon his arrival in Chicago. Like everyone else who has played in that spot, he will be tasked with filling a rather large Brandon Saad sized hole in the lineup.
Panik should be more like the power forward type of player that the team has been missing since Saad’s departure in the offseason. They have tried just about every combination available to them, including a brief separation of Panarin and Kane, which should never happen again.
The hope is that Panik will end the search and fill a void much like Artem Anisimov has on the second line. While Panik is not as defensively sound as Saad was, he will have the same support that Saad did as he was learning the Blackhawks defense first system. The hope is that there will be some lightning left over in that bottle, and certainly there are no two forwards better to play beside than Hossa and Jonathan Toews if you want to learn how to be an effective two-way player.
By appearances, his move to the top line is likely to be a golden opportunity, and his linemates are more than capable of picking up any slack defensively. If he can use his offensive skills to ignite the top line, coach Q might even be able to take his aching finger off the Q-sinart line blender for a game or two as that would give the top three lines some consistency for the first time all season.
It is even possible that Panik could see some time on the power play as he has had some success throughout his career on the man advantage; However, that is a spot that he will have to earn. Panik will undoubtedly be on a short leash until the team can really evaluate his play, but adding a big, gritty forward to the top line could be just what the doctor ordered for the Blackhawks heading into the second half of the season.
With the move, it is expected that Andrew Shaw will drop back into the bottom six in either Bryan Bickell or Ryan Garbutt’s spot making either of them susceptible to the dreaded healthy scratch. A position both are familiar with. It could even see Bickell back on waivers, which he will likely clear again. Though, it is doubtful he will make a return trip to the NHL with the Blackhawks if he does end up back in Rockford. With Shaw moving back to the grind line role with Dennis Rasmussen and whichever wing survives the healthy scratch, the Blackhawks may have four set lines for the first time in a couple of years. Though, how long that will last is always up in the air with coach Q.
It is unlikely that Quenneville will touch the third line with Andrew Desjardins, Phillip Danault, and Teuvo Teravainen which has been firing on all cylinders of late; And it is a virtual certainty that the second line has officially been written in permanent ink never to be changed unless things go absolutely nuclear.