As today’s battle of cellar dwellars looms large, I turn my attention to the Buffalo Sabres’ foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning. At first glance, it would not appear as if there are many parts worth stealing from the broken-down jalopy that the Lightning have become. They are 17-21-3 this year, and their leading scorers are Steven Stamkos (clearly untouchable for the purposes of this wish list), and the man-who-time-forgot, Martin St. Louis (37 years old, not exactly the kind of player you go out and get during a rebuilding phase). The Lightning still have Vincent LeCavalier . . . but he has missed 10+ games to injury each of the last three seasons. They do have Teddy Purcell, who scored a career-best 65 points last year and has put up 34 in this lockout-shortened season so far. For a while, Purcell was this close to being put on my wish list . . . until I watched highlights of Saturday’s Lightning – Capitals game, which is when I was reminded of Richard Panik.
Richard Panik, Right Wing
That’s right, Buffalo Sabres fan: I’m putting Richard Panik, he of the whopping 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) this year, on my wish list. Let’s look at my reasons why.
A. He’s young. At the tender age of 22, the Sabres can feel comfortable in the knowledge that Panik is going to get better, not regress, over the course of 4-5 seasons. He is also eager to prove himself, and has the potential to round out a young nucleus of Sabres’ players who, should they gel, can provide Buffalo with the type of team that will make the Sabres a force to be reckoned, not just for a year or two, but over a large period of time. Isn’t that the key to a rebuild – to establish a core group of players who can shoulder the responsibilities of keeping a team competitive for a window of at least half a decade, preferably longer?
B. He’s clearly on the upswing. Leading up to the 2009 draft, Panik was projected to be a top-ten pick, but according to The Hockey Writers, his stock fell after his “underwhelming WJC-U20 performance.” He spent some valuable time playing in the OHL and overseas, before spending most of this season playing for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL, where he was fourth on the team with 41 points, fourth in the AHL with 22 goals, and had amassed an impressive +17 rating. He’s shown improvement at every level that he has played at so far, and looks to be willing to work hard in order to fully maximize his potential.
C. He is a natural goal scorer. Don’t believe me? How about Hockey’s Future, which had this to say about Panik: “Panik is a highly-skilled, offensively-gifted forward with the size and speed needed to be a constant scoring threat.” Or how about you just check out the video of the two goals he scored to help Tampa Bay erase a four-goal deficit against the Capitals Saturday:
The first goal showcased Panik’s puck-handling skills and creativity; the second, his knack for knowing where the puck is going to be, and his ability to finish. For those of you keeping score at score at home, he also added an assist last night, giving him his first three-point game in the NHL. Not bad for a kid who has only played 19 games in the NHL so far.
There you have it, then: the player on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster that I would encourage the Buffalo Sabres to go after the most is Richard Panik. The Sabres could not do wrong inquiring about Teddy Purcell, certainly, but I like how Panik has worked hard to improve his game every season he has been playing, and I feel that adding him to a team loaded with such young players as Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, and Tyler Myers (not to mention Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons and Joel Armia), and Buffalo would have the makings of a hockey dynasty on its hands.
Whether you agree or disagree, feel free to leave me a comment below or fire me a Tweet @theamazing MrS!