Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ryan Malone is skating again, and that means Richard Panik's stint in Tampa may soon be coming to an end. Panik knows he could be returned to the AHL at any time. He was recalled on February 11th from the Syracuse Crunch when Malone suffered his upper body injury.
The uncertainty doesn't bother Panik, as he has embraced his role as an AHL player. "Anything to be in the NHL," he said.
When Panik was recalled, word reached his parents and girlfriend in Slovakia. They flew into Tampa on February 12th to see him play against the Montreal Canadiens, although they missed part of the first period.
"It was a long trip for them but I was glad they came and saw me," he said. "They made it (to the Forum) halfway through the first period and they were really tired at the end of the game."
The speed and flow of the game is different Panik says, but he's playing hockey at the highest level a player can. He certainly has no complaints.
"I am trying still to get used to the speed of the NHL; everyone is stronger and faster and I just have to keep it up," Panik said.
Although Panik has yet to register an NHL point, he remains patient and easy going. According to him, you can't let the thought of scoring get in your head too much. Instead, he says, he focuses on keeping things simpler.
Sounds easier said than done but that is what Panik did last season with the Norfolk Admirals where he registered 43 points. It did not come easy at first.
Panik's AHL coach, Jon Cooper, has overseen his development since the 2011-12 season and has been instrumental in the young hockey player's career. Panik said he had many one-on-one meetings with Cooper last season.
"Last year, I was a healthy scratch at the beginning of the season and then (Cooper) talked to me and said I just needed to keep it up and play harder and practice harder," Panik said, "I did what he said, and I got through the lineup and started playing more and more."
By mid-season of the 2011-2012 campaign, Panik started to score. He had a scoring streak in the month of November and he became a more consistent source for points with the Crunch.
Panik has the speed and size to be a potential scoring threat in the future. He also has impressive puck handling skills for a player his age. He's like many young goal scorers though; he still has to work on his defensive side of the game.
"I need to use my body and my speed more," he said. "It's not like the AHL...you make a mistake here, the puck goes in your net and you are out of the lineup."