Richard Panik Could Play Huge Role For Chicago Blackhawks
You may be asking yourself why finding an heir for Marian Hossa seems to be such a prevalent question in the blogosphere of our beloved Chicago Blackhawks. First it was Brandon Saad who was dubbed “Mini-Hoss,” then it was Marko Dano, son of Hossa’s former teammate, who seemed poised to carry the torch for the 37-year-old forward. With both Saad and Dano now gone through trade transactions, is there a player skating for the ‘Hawks who can take up Hossa’s mantle?
Let me first address why it’s so important for the Blackhawks to find a player who can fill a similar role as Hossa. Hossa is arguably the best two-way forward of all-time in the NHL, and it’s this attribute that has helped him thrive as a player in coach Joel Quenneville’s system. Hoss’ style of play reaching its full potential under Coach Q’s leadership has been one of the many reasons the Blackhawks have hoisted the Stanley Cup thrice since his arrival in Chicago.
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When Hoss came to Chi-Town, he inked a controversial, front-loaded contract that would keep him skating for the Blackhawks until he was 42, if he didn’t retire first. While I believe there is a really good chance Hossa will actually finish out his contract, this season has demonstrated that Hoss may have finally reached a point in his career where his age is starting to affect his production and consistency as a player.
Thus, with Hossa likely being regulated to lower=line and special teams responsibilities moving forward, it is imperative the ‘Hawks find a player of his caliber who can assume his upper-line role. Enter Richard Panik.
Panik was a very nice development this past regular season. In what many thought was simply a farm system-to-farm system trade for Jeremy Morin, Panik shocked ‘Hawks fans be cracking the roster for 30 games during the regular season, and six games of the playoffs, amassing 11 points in total. Like many Blackhawks players, Panik was victim of Q-Stache’s frequent line blending, and seemingly played on all four forward lines during the course of the season.
That being said, what makes Panik a potential heir to fellow Slovakian Hossa?
Panik has yet to play a full season in the NHL, but you have to admit from what we’ve seen so far, the stick and skating skills he has demonstrated during his tenure with the ‘Hawks are remarkably similar to Hossa’s. No matter what line Panik was skating on for the ‘Hawks, he was always at the forefront of offensive drives, pursuing the puck with an unrelenting tenacity. Furthermore the fact Panik has skated for both the fourth and first lines is a testament to his versatility, a quality often attributed to Hoss.
However, perhaps the most distinguishing and most Hossa-esque feature of Panik is his size, and the way he uses it. Panik sports a near-identical stature to Hossa, at 6-foot-1, 208 lbs., but rather than recklessly throw his weight around like many players in the NHL (i.e. Andrew Shaw), Panik has taken a page out of Hoss’ book and uses smart body positioning, usually during forechecks and backchecks, to deliver a well-placed and well-timed hit to an opposing player. Nowhere was this more prevalent than in Game 6 against the St. Louis Blues, in which Panik led the team with six hits.
While the Blackhawks are a team that has historically relied on puck possession and skill to win games, it’s become increasingly clear over the years that other teams adopt a black-and-blue strategy when taking the ice against the ‘Hawks, using physicality to knock the Blackhawks off their game. More often than not, the ‘Hawks have been able to rally past this type of adversity and eventually push back, but there were many noticeable times this season where this counter punch has come too little, too late.
Thus, having a skilled player like Panik who can also smartly dish out the body work when needed (especially along the boards where the ‘Hawks have traditionally struggled) has become increasingly important for the Blackhawks. The fact Panik is rumored to be re-signing with the ‘Hawks may very well be a sign they recognize this deficiency.
Should Panik be able to remain in Chicago, he’ll be expected to play a far larger role on the Hawks, and in my opinion, the place where Panik can reach his full potential right off the bat is skating on the same line as Hossa.
Pairing Hoss up with a similarly skilled player has already yielded positive results. If you’ll recall, Saad didn’t really hit his stride as a player until he was consistently skating with Hossa on the first line in 2015. Whether Hossa has been consciously serving as a mentor for the ‘Hawks is anyone’s guess, but given his skill set and style of play, there is no reason to think Panik wouldn’t experience a similar uptick in his offensive production opposite of Hossa. Furthermore, given that both Hossa and Panik are Slovakian, the likelihood of potent chemistry forming between them increases.
Hossa and Panik forming an effective synergy would be mutually beneficial. One, it would alleviate Hossa of some his first-line responsibilities since Panik would be able to tow more of the line, and two, it would bolster Panik’s abilities to the point that he would be able to effectively take up Hoss’ mantle after his age reduces him to lower-line roles.
Thus, the Blackhawks are hoping Panik is worth further investment, and should he remain in Chicago, all of ’Hawks Nation will be looking forward to see what dividends he produces.
FOR THE DAGGER!