To see signs of confidence from an NHL rookie, look no further than Richard Panik’s spin move at the top of the crease Thursday in his first game in Montreal.
The 22-year-old, in his 22nd game of the season with the Lightning, took a pass from Victor Hedman and pulled the puck from his backhand through the crease onto his forehand. The move happened in a split second and caught unsuspecting goaltender Carey Price flat-footed, leaving an open half of the net. Panik easily flipped the puck in for a power-play goal late in the second period.
“It was a great pass by Heddy, and I tried to jam it into the net, and suddenly I was right in front of the goalie,” Panik said. “So, I just put it upstairs and it went in.”
His description of that play perhaps gives an indication of some humility from the 2009 second-round pick, but make no mistake: He is a confident player on the ice. He loves to have the puck and is capable of scintillating moves when he has space.
That was evident on his first career goal, on Feb. 23 in Carolina, when he took his own rebound, flipped it across the crease, circled behind the net and emerged on the other side to flip the puck into the vacated side of the net.
“When he plays with confidence, he has above-average talent in every aspect of his game,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who coached Panik in the American Hockey League the past two years. “He’s got size. He can skate. He can shoot. So, when he’s playing with confidence he can be … the ceiling is really high for him. It’s just a matter of him staying consistent.”
Some of that is starting to come along at the NHL level after he became an integral part of last season’s AHL championship team. Panik spent much of the first half of last season as a healthy scratch.
Now, in his second call-up to the Lightning this season, it’s a process he’s picking up quicker than he did last season. In his first call-up, he had one goal and 10 hits in nine games. Since being recalled March 23, he has four goals, eight points and 25 hits in 13 games.
“You can tell, he’s starting to do some things where you almost have to reel him in a little bit, because you can tell he’s getting his confidence,” Cooper said. “And when these guys get going, you don’t want them getting too confident where they are doing things with the puck he shouldn’t be doing, turning the puck over just because he wants to be creative. And you don’t want to take that away from him, but it has to be in the parameters of the system. But I really like the way he is playing.”
Panik’s teammates like the way he is playing, as well. On his current path, he will be a mainstay in the Tampa Bay lineup in the near future, if he isn’t there already.
“There is a learning curve for any young player in this league,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “I went through it. But he is big, strong and he surprises me with how physical he is out there on the ice.
“He’s obviously very talented with the puck, and I think he’s going to be a good player. Not often do you have that combination of size, speed and skill. There are areas that he will improve on just by gaining more experience and more confidence with the puck and away from the puck, but I think he’s going to be a solid professional player.’’
Panik thinks the process is well under way. He already notices a difference from his first call-up to his second.
“I was so nervous my first games, and I didn’t know what to expect those first games in the NHL,” he said. “The second time, I knew what was coming and I was ready for it. The last games I’ve been playing like 15 minutes (a game), so more ice time is better and I feel more comfortable on the ice.”