“It was just a bad year,” said the 31-year-old forward, referring to the 2006-07 season. “All together, just a bad year.”
The colorful Zednik, who created ‘Zed Heads’ with his dyed hair while playing in Washington earlier in his career, is anxious to put last season behind him now that he’s a Panther.
The versatile, 31-year-old winger, who signed a two-year contract with the Panthers, experienced last year the toughest season in his 12-year NHL career.
In his second stint with the Capitals, Zednik missed six games in November with a wrist injury and then sat out December and January after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia. The season got worse in March when, after being traded to the Islanders, he missed nine games when he rushed home to Slovakia due to an illness in his family.
“With the injuries, the personal stuff in my life, it was a bad year,” said Zednik from his summer home in Slovakia. “But I’m looking forward to putting it all behind me. Last year there was just some stuff I had to go through. It wasn’t the right one for me. But I’m focused on next season. I want to go forward and be ready for the new season. Everyone is hungry to make it to the playoffs.”
Zednik, who scored eight goals in his first 13 games against the Panther franchise, gives the Panthers speed, flexibility in that he can play both wings, and possibly as many as 20-30 goals.
“Richard is a hard working forward who possesses a scoring touch,” said Panther GM and coach Jacques Martin said. “Additionally, he is a clutch player who has performed very well in postseason competition (16 goals in 43 playoff games).”
Interestingly, when free agency kicked off July 1, Zednik’s hope was there would be interest in Florida. While playing 3 ½ seasons in Montreal from 2001-04, Zednik played against Martin’s Ottawa Senators and was coached by Panther assistant Guy Charron, a former assistant with the Canadiens.
“Florida was my first choice so it was exciting when my agent called and said there was an offer,” Zednik said. “(Jozef) Stumpel is a friend of mine. I know (Tomas) Vokoun. And Jacques and Guy know me.”
Charron, who called Zednik a “bit of a free spirit” when he was younger, believes the winger’s potential is limitless whether or not his hair is dyed.
“He’s a player who can play on the top two lines,” Charron said. “I think you could consider him somewhat of a power forward. He’s a guy who goes to the net, works the small areas well in the corners, and he’s got good balance. He likes the role as an offensive player, but he’s smart enough to fulfill any role. He played on a line for a while when I was in Montreal with Saku Koivu and (Alex) Kovalev.
“I think the thing with ‘Z’ is he needs to perform on a consistent basis. It’s an issue with a lot of players. But ‘Z’ plays in traffic, down low, he dives to the net. My experience with him for a year was I respected him. And when he’s on his game, he’s a determined player.”
Zednik believes Martin will ask him to use his speed to create offense and score goals. “Jacques likes speedy wingers,” he said. “That’s what I like. I can give that and score goals.”