Thursday, September 12, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Forwards: Richard Panik

Richard Panik

“I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.”
-- J. B. Priestley

Richard Panik has been one of those hockey players over the course of his career that are uncommonly common.  First, you have to realize that if you play hockey at the NHL level for any length of time, you’re among the best 500 or so players on the planet.  Fans sometimes forget this.  On the other hand, there are a fair number of players who accumulate a volume of games by virtue of being, quite literally, “journeymen.”

Panik qualifies as such a player.  Taken in the second round of the 2009 Entry Draft (52nd overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning, he worked his way up through juniors and minor league hockey to join the Lightning in 2012-2013.  After two seasons in Florida, he was waived in October 2014 and claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  A year and a half later, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he lasted two seasons before he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes.  He played for a season and change in Arizona and became an unrestricted free agent at the end of last season.  On the first day of the free agency signing period last July, he signed a four-year contract with the Washington Capitals for $11 million.  The Caps will be his fifth NHL team as he embarks on his eighth NHL season.

What Panik has accomplished along his hockey journey is improve his top-end performance numbers.  He was not an especially prolific goal scorer in either of his first two stops, averaging 0.11 goals per game in Tampa and 0.14 goals per game in Toronto.  But he did ramp up that production in his last two stops, averaging 0.23 goals per game in Chicago and 0.20 goals per game in Arizona.  But last season in Arizona was an odd one for Panik, too.  He started slowly (0-1-1, minus-3, in his first seven games) and ended slowly (1-1-2, minus-1, in his last 11 games).  In the 57 games in between, he was a very productive 13-17-30, plus-1.  It might not have been a coincidence that Arizona was 29-23-5 in those 57 games, while the Coyotes went 6-9-3 in the games that made up Panik’s slow start and finish.

Odd Panik Fact…

In his first three seasons, Richard Panik totaled 177 shots on goal in 151 games.  In his first full season with the Chicago Blackhawks (2016-2017), his fifth career season, he recorded 155 shots on goal.  He did not reach 100 shots on goal in any of his first four seasons, but he has not recorded fewer than 136 in any of his last three seasons.

Fearless’ Take…

Richard Panik is a fairly efficient shooter.  Only once in seven seasons was his shooting percentage under 10 percent (2013-2014, when he was 5.4 percent on 114 shots in 50 games with Tampa Bay).  And, he has 50 goals in 229 games over his last three seasons.  This is a useful benchmark if you are thinking of Panik as a replacement for Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line.  Connolly had 52 goals in 217 games in his three seasons with the Caps.  What Panik added over the last three seasons in Chicago and Arizona that Connolly did not in Washington was assists.  He had 62 in 229 games, while Connolly had 44 in 217 games.  Line assignments and linemate skills in converting chances matter here, but it might be something to watch with Panik on the third line, if that is his role.

Cheerless’ Take…

Brett Connolly was not a penalty killer for the Caps, a role one might envision for a bottom six forward who does not get a lot of even strength ice time or power play chances.  But Panik was sixth among Arizona forwards in shorthanded ice time per game last season (1:12 per game).  It was more than he had in his brief stint with the Coyotes to end the 2017-2018 season (22 seconds per game).  In his previous stop, in Chicago, he skated a total of 21 seconds of shorthanded ice time over 149 games.  Although the Caps do bring back five forwards who averaged more than a minute of shorthanded ice time per game last season (Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, Nic Dowd, and Chandler Stephenson), penalty killing is something that could use improvement.  The question remains if he will have such a penalty killing role with the Caps, and if so, how much of one. 

Potential Milestones:
  • 100 career goals (75; he needs 25)
  • 100 career assists (84; he needs 16)
  • 200 career points (159; he needs 41)

The Big Question… Richard Panik might be able to replace Brett Connolly’s production, but can he replace his chemistry?

Managing personnel in a sport that has as much roster turnover as one finds in the NHL seems to be equal parts science and art.  Especially among bottom six forwards, one can find a player to replace another with similar statistical profiles, but whether outcomes with the new player will be as successful as those with the old are harder to predict.  Brett Connolly was something of a disappointment in previous stops as a former high first round draft pick that did not perform to that level.  However, he found a stable role with the Caps – third line right wing with almost entirely even strength responsibility – and flourished in it. 

Richard Panik is equally well-traveled, but he is a different sort of player than Connolly, less an offense-oriented, efficient goal scoring type than he is a balanced player, both in terms of goals scored and assists passed out, and perhaps being more of a two-way player, even if he does not get a significant penalty killing load.  Whether he fits into the third line right wing role as comfortably as Connolly left it is an issue that comes with roster turnover, and it is magnified on a team that expect to contend for a Stanley Cup.

In the end…

Richard Panik is a player with a lot of tools in his tool kit.  He does not use them as an elite artisan as much as he does a good craftsman.  He scores goals, he passes out assists, he has good possession numbers.  In that respect, he is probably a more rounded player than the one he appears to be replacing – Brett Connolly – and that might make for a player who can weather offensive slumps better because he can rely on other talents to contribute at both ends of the ice.  Fresh in the memory of Capitals Nation is how well the bottom six forward corps performed on its way to the Stanley Cup in 2018 (27 goals in 24 games from players who occupied bottom six roles) and how much less productive it was last spring in the opening round against Carolina (five goals in seven games).  If Panik can approximately replace Connolly’s production and contribute more of a two way game, perhaps the Capitals will find themselves better able to weather slumps in the postseason than they were last spring.

Projection: 77 games, 13-17-30, plus-2

Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America

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