Panik Brings Size, Skill to Lightning

For the second time in two days, the Tampa Bay Lightning recalled one of their top prospects from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

On Sunday, the Bolts announced that center/winger Alex Killorn would join the NHL club for his NHL debut against the New York Rangers. Killorn had an assist and played well in a 5-1 loss to the Rangers.

On Monday, the NHL club put forward Ryan Malone on injured reserve and called-up second year pro Richard Panik. The Slovakian winger is expected to make his NHL debut at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

Panik is second on the Crunch in goals with 21 and fourth in points with 35 in 43 games. His plus-19 rating is tied for second on the club and third in the league. He sits fourth in the AHL in goals.

He is a logical replacement for Malone, who plays a power forward role with the big club. Panik is a skill forward in a power forward’s body and exhibits a power forward’s mentality in traffic. While listed at 6-1, his strength is impressive as players frequently bounce off him when trying to make a hit. He’s not shy about dropping the gloves and he’s already blown last year’s penalty minute total of 62 out of the water (79).

The knocks on the 2009 second round pick include lack of consistency and defensive awareness, but he has vastly improved his consistency this season and matured at both ends of the ice. He was once thought to be a first rounder for the 2009 draft, but effort concerns knocked him to the second round. Then-Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton took him at No. 52.

Panik is the proverbial bull in a china shop when he’s in traffic as he uses his size to create space and chances. Like a blue chip NFL running back prospect, Panik can go through players or use his agility and skill to go around them. He is a rare player that can play an effective east-west skill game in addition to the North American north-south style of play.

Current Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman likes his prospects to take time to develop and Panik is one who, if called-up when he first turned pro, may have fizzled out. He wasn’t ready.

Now he is.

Panik has taken over some games this season and has frequently been the most impressive pro prospect on the Crunch roster in terms of talent ceiling. If his mind and professional approach are right, he could eventually flirt with being an NHL all-star.

That is well into the future, however. For now, he will bring a strong work ethic, physical play, and elite skill to the Lightning. He doesn’t have Malone’s smarts and attention to detail, but he possesses more offensive skill. Panik’s biggest challenge will be adjusting to the speed of the NHL game in the defensive zone.

He’ll certainly be fun to watch.