It doesn’t matter how one gets to the NHL, some say, it’s just important that one gets there.
In the case of Richard Panik, he is almost sure to wholeheartedly agree.
With the team announcing Monday that forward Ryan Malone has been placed on Injured Reserve due to a lower body injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning recalled Panik from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League to fill a spot in the lineup, as injuries to the Bolts begin to surface just 11 games into the season.
Right Wing - TBL
Panik has recorded 21 goals and 35 points in 43 games this season for the Crunch, but at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, he also brings size and grit that the Lightning could use with Malone out of the lineup, especially as the team looks to reverse a recent losing trend that after Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers, has now reached four games.
That may sound like some daunting circumstances under which to come in and perform for the 22-year-old native of Martin, Slovakia, but nonetheless, the opportunity to play in the NHL is one that Panik will undoubtedly embrace.
Drafted in the second round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Panik made the choice to leave his native home and ply his skills in Canada’s Ontario Hockey League in 2009-10, appearing in 33 games for the Windsor Spitfires before being sent to the Belleville Bulls in a trade, after which he played in 27 games with his new club.
“It was tough my first year,” Panik said. “A lot of it was getting used to the North American game and being comfortable in the locker room, with your teammates, and learning English. Then I got traded.”
Panik, thinking back, said that at the time he was often homesick and questioned his future in hockey.
But after excelling with the Bulls in the second half of that same season, he attracted the eye of the team’s top-minor league affiliate at the time, the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League, who gave him a chance to play in five games, in which he recorded one assist.
Back in juniors to start the 2010-11 season, Panik again was traded for a second time, this time from Belleville to the Guelph Storm.
Although it was difficult going from team to team, Panik experienced playing within a lot of different systems, and in a lot of situations.
He finally cracked the professional ranks last season, in 2011-12, registering 19 goals and 41 points in 64 games, helping the Admirals to last spring’s Calder Cup championship.
Panik, though, started the season slow and watched his team perform from high above in the press box as a healthy scratch.
“I really wasn’t playing a lot. I was on the fifth line,” he joked.
Then all of that changed when head coach Jon Cooper shuffled things up a bit and placed him on a line that also featured Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
There were many challenges, but I always knew I wanted to play in the NHL - Richard Panik
Panik seemingly took off, racking up points while skating on one of the league’s most prolific scoring lines.
He even got a big shoutout from Johnson, this season’s second-leading goal scorer in the American League, who said he wasn’t sure if he’s ever played with two linemates as talented as Panik and Palat.
Chock it all up to say that Panik certainly earned his call-up to the big club on Monday, which came just one day after fellow prospect and Crunch teammate Alex Killorn also made his NHL debut and even recorded an assist for his first career NHL point.
“There were many challenges, but I always knew I wanted to play in the NHL.”
And now, following Monday’s call-up, he’ll finally get that chance.