The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped a strange one to the Florida Panthers Sunday night. A game that saw them with a 1-0 lead, only to lose it, then take a 4-2 lead, and then lose it, ultimately dropping the contest 6-4. To add insult to injury or injury to insult rather, right winger Richard Panik suffered an upper-body injury.
The injury came off a hit from Panthers’ Scottie Upshall in the second period, after Panik had scored the goal that put the Leafs up 1-0. Some speculate the result of the hit could be a concussion, but nothing has been confirmed. Either way, Panik will sit out Monday’s tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The hope is that the injury isn’t too serious as Panik has been a pleasant surprise for the Buds.
— NHL (@NHL) December 29, 2014
Part of a Change in Identity
The Maple Leafs made a conscious decision during the off-season to become a team that could roll four lines and so far it seems to be paying off and a big reason for that is the play of Panik. The 23-year-old has found the back of the net seven times this season, already eclipsing his career high. And though it might seem as a surprise for a fourth-line player to be making such a contribution, to his teammates they aren’t surprised.
“I think he’s huge, in the minutes he’s played he’s been unbelievable,” says defenseman Korbinian Holzer. “You should watch him at practice, he’s got some really, really high skill and he’s got some good moves. He’s a very good addition and he can even throw them, which was good to see. He’s a very skilled player and he’s been a great addition.”
Who is Richard Panik?
The Maple Leafs acquired the Martin, Slovakia native back on October 9, claiming him off waivers from the Lightning. Panik was unable to crack a very deep Bolts team coming out of training camp and the Leafs were willing to take on his affordable $735,000 contract.
Drafted by the Lightning in the second round, 57th overall in 2009, he was a very impressive junior. Panik represented Slovakia at the World Junior Championship three times between 2009 and 2011 tallying 22 points over 19 games and was also fortunate enough to play at the Sochi Olympics.
Despite this head coach Randy Carlyle admits that he didn’t know much about the 6-foot-1, 208 pound centre, but has since found Panik to be a very versatile piece to the team’s lineup.
“He was a skilled player; I didn’t really know him, that was something where our pro-scouts and our management made the decision,” says Carlyle. “They thought he was a player who could come in and support our lineup and possibly move up.
“At any given time in a game you could feel comfortable that you could move that player up if things aren’t going the way you’d like higher in our lineup. He’s an interchangeable part and he’s a dangerous player, obviously to play in the position that he’s been playing in [fourth line].”
An Offensive Fourth Line
In the past the Leafs have shied away from giving their fourth line significant ice-time and that is largely due to the fact that the Leafs’ fourth-line in years prior was loaded with tough guys expected to drop the gloves when needed. This season the Buds have the 27th most fights in the NHL, just seven, after leading the league the past two seasons.
The fourth-line has been able to provide offense and Panik is a big part of that. Early on in the season Panik has more goals than either Jay McClemment, Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Carter Ashton, and Troy Bodie tallied last season while playing on the Leafs last trio. However, for Panik he tries to keep his game simple, just playing his heart out every chance he gets.
“I’m just trying my best every shift I take, it doesn’t matter if I play five minutes I’m just focusing on the next shift,” he says. “Now it’s going in the net and I’m really happy about it and hopefully it can keep going this way.”
A Very Versatile Addition
And though he finds himself on the fourth-line most nights Carlyle hints that with his play it doesn’t mean he will be pigeon-holed into that spot.
“He finds ways to provide that offense,” says Carlyle. “And that’s the great thing about guys like Richard, you know that there is more there and because he is in this situation now doesn’t mean he is going to stay there.”
In fact Panik found time playing on the Leafs third line last night. Hopes are that his injury won’t keep him out for too long as the team has really benefited from his offensive production on the team’s bottom part of the lineup.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.