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Panik at the Disco

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning
Richard Panik of Team Slovakia skates during the semifinal game at the IIHF World Junior Championships on January 03, 2009.
Way back on the final page of The Hockey News 2008 Draft Preview issue, with Steven Stamkos on the cover, and below the picture of a younger Victor Hedman, there is a list of the top 10 prospects for the 2009 draft.

One of the three goals Panik scored while playing with the Windsor Spitfires this week.

Prospect Profile

Richard Panik
Right Wing
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 203
Shoots: Left
Born: Feb 7, 1991
Birthplace: Martin, Slovakia
Drafted: TBL / 2009 NHL Draft Round: 2nd (52nd overall)

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No. 7 is Richard Panik.

Panik, the powerful, smooth-skating right wing from Slovakia, began the year-long countdown to his draft day projected as a lottery pick. Injuries, contributing to a disjointed year, coupled with other players moving up, caused Panik’s stock fall as last June 27 approached.

The Lightning scouting staff didn’t lose sight of the upside in Panik. His bad luck ended up being the Lightning’s good fortune. When the 52nd pick rolled around, Tampa selected the 6-foot-2, 203-pounder.

“I think there were some concerns about his shoulder [injury],” Lightning Director of Player Personnel Jim Hammett said. “We had him high on our list, as corny as that sounds. He’s a guy we felt had first-round skill.  We were thrilled to get him.”

Not only did the Lightning make a potential steal, they are confident the 18-year-old Panik (pronounced PANIC) is in a perfect spot for his development to soar. Panik decided to move from the Czech League in Europe to the Ontario League with defending Memorial Cup Champion Windsor, who had selected him in the import draft.

Before coming to rookie camp with the Lightning Tuesday in Brandon, Panik totaled eight points in two exhibition games with the Spitfires. He scored one spectacular goal, getting to a puck sent off the backboards and whipping it back between his legs and into the net from below the end line. If you don’t believe it, you can check it out on Youtube.

“I just tried to score…,” Panik said, with a smile. “Lucky.”

Maybe, but unique moves are part of his game.

“He’s creative with the puck,” Hammett said. “That’s exciting to me. He’s got a natural set of hands. He’s one of those guys who can beat you off the rush and put you on the edge of your seat. The potential’s all there for him. He’s just got to work hard and bring it out of himself all the time.”

Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton said the team is pleased Panik will learn under Windsor coach Bob Boughner and General Manager Warren Rychel, both former NHL players.
Beyond the fact that Panik is with a high-caliber team, it helps in tracking his progress to have him in North America. He will also get to adjust his game to the smaller rinks of North America.

Panik is not your typical European player arriving for the first time though.

“I like the smaller rinks, because it’s faster and harder,” Panik said. “I like the Canadian style, but it is very different from Europe.”

Panik, 18, broke out in the 2007-08 season when he scored 35 goals and 62 points in 38 games for the HC Trinec Under-20 team in the Czech League. In 2008, he also starred at the Under-18 World Juniors with four goals and six assists in six games.

Then, the tough luck began. Panik suffered a knee injury in the summer of 2008, but battled back and made Team Slovakia for the World Juniors in Ottawa, playing with Lightning prospect goalie Jaroslav Janus. Panik had two goals and three assists in seven games.

“I think he had a sound World Juniors,” Hammett said. “I don’t think it was the coming-out party that some people thought it was going to be.”

Still, Janus and Panik helped Slovakia make it to the semifinals.

Panik was limited to about 15 games in the Czech League in 2008-09 and a late-season collarbone injury created more questions in scouts’ minds. As a result he was ranked 30th by The Hockey News and 31st by the International Scouting Service.

“It was a very hard season for me,” Panik said.

Panik can smile about it now and look forward. He said he is 100 percent healthy and determined to reach his goal of signing a professional contract. From what he has shown the first few days of camp, that day is getting closer.

“He’s a big, strong guy who can really move," Lawton said.

Panik now just needs to round out his game. He said he wants to be a leader and help Windsor win another Memorial Cup. Hammett said Boughner played as hard as anyone and Rychel’s “been through the trenches.” They are both good role models for Panik to listen to.

“Like most players his age, he has to learn how to play without the puck,” Hammett said.
“For Richard, one of the biggest things is consistency with his work ethic. If he finds a way to do that, the sky’s the limit for him.”
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