Panik helping Wolves close in on title
It's been a long, strange road for former Blackhawks forward Richard Panik over the past few years.
Incredibly, it has led the quiet, soft-spoken forward back to the Windy City as a member of the Chicago Wolves -- the fifth team Panik has played for since he signed a four-year, $19 million deal with the Washington Capitals July 1, 2019.
The Wolves, who are 2 victories away from claiming the AHL's Calder Cup, acquired Panik via loan from the New York Islanders March 28. (NHL teams will sometimes loan veterans who aren't playing for their AHL affiliates to other AHL teams.)
"Obviously I knew Chicago is a good team and they had a good chance to go deep in the playoffs," said Panik, who won the Calder Cup with Norfolk in 2012. "So it was exciting because (much of the) season I wasn't playing, even in the AHL. I was glad somebody wanted me.
"Got here, they gave me a chance, now we're in the Finals. Now I'm having fun."
The most fun Panik had in his professional career came with the Hawks in 2016-17. Given an opportunity by coach Joel Quenneville to skate on the top line with Jonathan Toews for much of the season, Panik poured in a career-high 22 goals and was part of a squad that claimed the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
"I had a great, great time here," said Panik, whom the Hawks acquired from Toronto in January 2016. " 'Q' was really good to me. He gave me the opportunity. Obviously my best year was here.
"Met lots of great people. Great fans. Still great memories."
Panik racked up 6 goals in the Hawks' first nine games the next season, but then went through a 27-game drought and was traded to Arizona for Anthony Duclair and defenseman Adam Clendening Jan. 10, 2018.
After scoring 14 times for the Coyotes in 2018-19, Panik signed the aforementioned deal with the Capitals. Things didn't work out in Washington, though, and he was traded to Detroit and then to the Islanders.
Panik was placed on waivers after this season's training camp and played in just 32 total games (4 in the NHL, 28 in the AHL) before joining the Wolves. He has goals in five of the last seven games, including three straight. The last two opened the scoring in Games 2 and 3 of the Calder Cup Finals, both won by the Wolves. They lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 Friday in Springfield.
"Overall he's been a really good addition," said forward Stefan Noesen, who led the AHL with 48 goals. "That's a solid piece to add into any lineup."
Said 29-year-old captain Andrew Poturalski: "He clearly has that experience and he brings it. ... He's not going to take any shortcuts. It's good to have the younger guys see that and see how he goes about his business on and off the ice."
Noesen also noted that Panik understands his place and isn't going to "step on too many toes." It's not easy, after all, to seamlessly fit in on the best team in the league.
Panik -- who was scratched in two postseason games -- understands that and seems to be finding his game at the perfect time.
"We're talking about a guy who's been through a lot," said coach Ryan Warsofsky. "He's been put on waivers, he got traded, he got loaned over here. ... It's not like he's just gonna walk in and be this superstar hockey player.
"He's (also) got three kids back home in Slovakia and his wife's back home. There's a lot that these players go through. ... Away from the rink (things can) takes a toll on you emotionally, which we all understand. He's done a great job here as of late helping us."
Panik's wife and kids, who are 4, 2½ and 9 months old, moved back to Martin, Slovakia, in March.
"It was kind of nice because you didn't have to deal with the transition (to Chicago) and everything, but obviously I miss them," Panik said, who added with a smile: "They're already three months older now, so I have to like introduce myself again."
When this season ends Panik will go back to the Islanders. He loves the organization, but just wants a "fair chance" to make the roster.
"It's going to be an interesting summer," Panik said. "My main goal is to go to a training camp where I know I can make the team. I'm taking my summers serious. I show up in every training camp (in good shape).
"Knowing they're not giving me a fair chance it's kind of hard. Hopefully next season I'll get that and I can earn my spot and I'll be on the team."
Richard Panik has been on the move during much of his professional career. A look back:
• Drafted in the second round in 2009 by Tampa Bay Lightning.
• Part of 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals squad that won a league-record 28 games in a row and went on to claim the AHL's Calder Cup.
• Played 75 games for Tampa Bay from 2012-14
• Placed on waivers after 2014 training camp and claimed by Toronto. Scored 11 goals in 76 games for Maple Leafs in 2014-15.
• After starting 2015-16 season in AHL, Panik is traded to Blackhawks in exchange for Jeremy Morin.
• Put together career-best 22-goal, 22-assist season in 2016-17 as Blackhawks claim No. 1 seed in the West.
• Traded to Arizona Jan. 10, 2018 in exchange for Anthony Duclair and Adam Clendening.
• Signed four-year, $11 million contract with Washington Capitals July 1, 2019. Had 9 goals, 13 assists in COVID-shortened 2019-20 campaign.
• After playing 36 games for Capitals in 2020-21, traded to Detroit in April 2021, then to New York Islanders July 16, 2021.
• Loaned to Chicago Wolves March 28. Has 5 goals, 4 assists in 14 postseason games.
NHL totals: 88 goals, 107 assists in 521 games.
Blackhawks totals: 34 goals, 34 assists in 149 games