Last year, Richard Panik felt like his career was trending downward.
Splitting his time between Tampa and AHL affiliate Syracuse, it was believed that Panik was held in high regard, a potential top-nine forward for the Lightning organisation. But, some bad luck and an inability to produce at the pace he would have liked, resulted in the Slovakian being placed on waivers for the first time in his career.
“Last year was kind of bad, I didn’t catch on in the beginning of the season” said Panik. “I didn’t score the first 19 games so my confidence went down. Then the suspension for that hit on (Karl) Alzner didn’t help me. When you don’t have the confidence it’s hard to get it back. It was just a tough year for me.”
The Lightning tendered Panik a one-year two-way contract this past summer. When training camp concluded, Panik was among the final round of cuts.
The plan was for Panik to report back to Syracuse, but seizing an opportunity to grab some depth, the Maple Leafs claimed Panik, and it’s worked out well for all involved.
Panik scored his fifth goal of the season on Saturday night, matching his season high he accomplished back in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. It took 25 games to get five goals back then. It’s taken him 23 minutes now, and with less ice time. In 2013, Panik was playing 11:20 per game. This year, he has been limited to 8:47 per game.
“I’ve got goals so that’s kind of helped me. But, still I kind of like staying after practice and working on something to get my confidence.”
Panik feels he can contribute more. An increase in ice time would do wonders for his confidence, which has improved. The problem Panik finds before himself, is a crowded pool of top-nine players that the Leafs are loaded with.
Toronto averages 3.42 goals per game, second in the NHL. The scoring has been balanced, which makes getting an increased role for Panik a little difficult right now.
Still, Panik will continue to put the work into his game to gain more opportunity.
“I think coach doesn’t know me well and each game I gotta play a hard game and earn the spot” Panik said. “Everybody was in training camp and I didn’t have the opportunity. Now I’m playing on the fourth line. Even if I play five minutes I gotta play hard and earn that spot on the top-nine.”
It’s difficult coming into a new team with a new identity. Panik is still in the discovery process, but as long as the fourth line continues to produce, he and his line mates will continue to see more ice time.
Komarov still out
Leo Komarov did not skate with the Maple Leafs during Monday’s practice. There continues to be no timeline after suffering an injury on November 29th. Since that time, Komarov has only skated one time, an optional morning skate this past Thursday. Komarov has been working out off ice during this time.
Kozun ready to go, waiting.
Brandon Kozun is fully healthy and ready for duty when called upon. There was thought that Leafs coach Randy Carlyle would look to Kozun, after the forward was activated from injured reserve. Carlyle elected to not change his roster and Kozun was a healthy scratch. Kozun may have to wait a bit longer should the Leafs continue to produce positive results.
Leafs lines at Monday practice