Chicago Blackhawks’ Panik Trying To Prove Top-Six Worth
By Ryan Leidig
Three goals in four games and a four-game point streak. Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik is out to prove that he can consistently play a top-six role.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik has been traded a few times in his hockey career, and one word that seemed to follow him was inconsistency.
After starting his career in the Czech Extraliga, the top professional league in the Czech Republic, Panik was drafted in the second round 52nd overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
He started the 2013-14 season on the Lightning roster. After a few stints in the AHL, Panik had seen 50 games with the Lightning, registering three goals and 13 points. On October 9, 2014, Panik was picked up off of waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Panik would have a career year in Toronto, setting his personal high in games played (76), goals (11) and points (17). Yet, the following season he was put on and cleared waivers to go to the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. After having a career year, he was beaten on the depth charts, and again the word inconsistency would be one of the reasons.
Finding his way to Chicago
On Jan. 3, 2016, Panik would start his time with the Chicago Blackhawks after being traded for failed forward Jeremy Morin. As Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has done in the past, he saw something in Panik and felt his true skills had not been touched.
Da Windy City
In 2015-16 season Panik saw 30 games and was starting to make a name for himself playing, scoring six goals and eight points. His play down the stretch that season showed he had something there that, with time and training, could lead him to a bigger role.
As the 2016-17 season started, Panik started on the top line next to Jonathan Toews. That line would have a slew of left wingers, but the ‘Hawks could never really seem to find the right fit.
At the beginning of that season, Panik would turn some heads by scoring a hat trick early against the Nashville Predators and posting six goals in six games. He did move up and down the lineup a bit, having some scoring droughts.
Another good streak for Panik came in February as he scored 12 points in a nine-game stretch. He would end up in all 82 regular-season games, scoring 22 goals and 44 points. When Panik was on the top line was when he was at his best.
Preparing for the 2017-18 season
This past summer, the Blackhawks signed Panik to a two-year deal worth $2.8 million a year. There were plenty of questions around the team’s lineup, but Panik was never part of those questions.
After proving his best play came with the captain Toews, he has been cemented as the top-line right winger. As training camps and the preseason started, Panik came in showing he had a purpose. He wanted to prove to everyone that he deserves his contract, and he came in scoring high on the strength and conditioning tests.
With the first four games in the books, Panik has had another hot start by posting three goals and six points through the first four games. In an interview with The Athletic’s Scott Powers, Panik described his plan for this season thusly:
"“Just to bring my game, don’t think too much about what’s going to happen and just play my game, play my style. That’s what got me to this point. I’m just going to keep it simple and play my game.”"
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With so many questions on the blue line and with all the new players on the team, the Blackhawks need Panik and the top line to be firing on all cylinders. Panik has shown he can be sound defensively, be gritty and play with an edge, and he has the offensive upside the ‘Hawks need. If he continues to prove that he can play effectively, he will be a top-line winger.