Last week’s flurry of activity at the trade deadline included a blockbuster trade between the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals. When the news broke that general manager Steve Yzerman had traded star forward Anthony Mantha for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round selection and 2022 second-round selection, most of the headlines were (understandably so) focused around both Vrana and Mantha, who were the centerpieces of the trade.
Panik, though unheralded in the transaction, has plenty to offer the Red Wings in both the short- and long-term picture related to the team’s rebuild as well. A veteran forward who has seemingly always been associated with winning teams, Panik’s impact on Detroit’s rebuild may very well be in future box scores… but that is far from a guarantee.
Panik’s Experience Can Help Accelerate the Rebuild
Panik broke into the NHL during the 2012-13 season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who drafted him 52nd overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but his nine-year career has included stints with the Lightning, Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, and Arizona Coyotes. In his 510 games played, he has 191 points on 88 goals and 103 assists, and though he’s not a player who is expected to score all the time, his veteran experience offers the opportunity for him to accelerate the team’s rebuild.
His most productive season came in 2016-17 with the Blackhawks, in which he compiled 44 points on 22 goals and 22 assists while playing all 82 games that season, and then followed up with a 35-point season the following year. Moreover, the experience he has with quality teams like Washington and Chicago have exposed him to championship-pedigree organizations, something the current Red Wings’ roster doesn’t have much of.
His postseason experience is relatively limited, having played only 20 games in the playoffs. His best performance came in 2015-16, when he tallied three points in six games with the Blackhawks, though the team was eliminated in seven games in its first-round matchup against the St. Louis Blues.
Impact on the Ice with the Red Wings
Panik’s first five games with Detroit have been relatively quiet, though he was able to break through in Thursday’s 7-3 win over the Dallas Stars for his first goal as a Red Wing. In a little over a week he has averaged 13:43 on the ice with the team, but it’s little things such as that very goal that may make the difference on such a young team.
The goal, while fluky, also highlighted a number of things consistently preached to hockey players — never give up on a play, and play to the whistle.
Yes, it wasn’t a proverbial “goal scorer’s goal,” nor was it any sort of set play. Instead, it highlighted the reward that could ensue when attention is paid to detail. Keep in mind the goal was scored with just under 20 seconds left — this after a seemingly harmless attempt to hold the puck in the zone. Before the puck even made it to the net, Panik was already trailing his own shot, and was ultimately able to finish the play after goalie Anton Khudobin was unable to locate the puck sitting just behind him.
It wasn’t pretty, nor did it end up being the game-winning goal. That said, it was a pivotal moment in the game, because it gave the Red Wings a three-goal cushion heading into the first intermission, and actually forced Dallas to shake things up by bringing in backup netminder Jake Oettinger for the second and third periods.
Small actions build up and speak volumes to impressionable young talent in the NHL, and that’s exactly what transpired on Thursday evening. Dallas was able to respond, but could never get back within striking distance because of the early hole it dug.
Expansion Draft Possibilities
Panik’s role for the remainder of the season is clear, considering Detroit is nowhere near the playoff hunt. But he will surprisingly play a role in the offseason, as well.
The acquisition of Panik also gives Yzerman a little more flexibility on who he can protect heading into the Seattle Kraken expansion draft this summer. Part of Washington’s rationale for including him in the trade is his annual average salary of $2.75 million in each of the next two seasons. Since the Red Wings have plenty of room under the cap for the forseeable future, that’s of little concern to the team. That said, the fact that he does not have a no-movement clause and meets the minimum games played requirements means there’s a decent chance he will not be included on the protected players list for the draft.
It’s anyone’s guess who Yzerman will ultimately expose or protect, but Panik could be an enticing option for Seattle to ponder given the flashes of scoring ability he’s shown in the past, and at a relatively low cost. Should Seattle decide to claim him, it will ensure any home-grown talent who may potentially be on the cusp of breaking through have that opportunity next season, as well. (See: Evgeny Svechnikov, Givani Smith, etc).
No one quite knows what next year’s iteration of the Red Wings is going to look like, but the addition of Panik to the lineup immediately gave the Red Wings a serviceable forward who can not only help project a winning culture to a young team, but also potentially help keep the team intact as yet another expansion draft approaches.
Whatever happens moving forward, the “Yzerplan” continues to evolve.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.