Richard Panik reassigned to Syracuse Crunch

The young Slovak forward has struggled all season long in the NHL and will be sent down to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL in a move that benefits everyone involved.

Richard Panik was ranked #5 in our on-going Top 25 Under 25 series.

That article concluded with the following thought:

In the case of any young player, the best development usually happens with the most minutes, so expect something to change over the second half of the season as Steve Yzerman and Jon Cooper find a way to coax more out of the promising forward.

In an unsurprising move, the team announced this afternoon that Panik has been reassigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

From the team:

The Tampa Bay Lightning have reassigned forward Richard Panik to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.

Panik, 22, has skated in 39 games with the Lightning this season, collecting two goals and 11 points to go along with 15 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound forward ranks tied for ninth in the NHL among rookies for power-play assists with four. Earlier this season, he was named to represent Team Slovakia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Panik has appeared in 64 career NHL games, all with the Lightning, over the past two seasons, recording seven goals and 20 points with 19 penalty minutes.

The Martin, Slovakia native has played in 115 career AHL games with the Crunch and Norfolk Admirals, posting 41 goals and 82 points. He ranked second on the Crunch last year during the Calder Cup playoffs for goals with nine and ranked first for penalty minutes with 59. Panik won the Calder Cup Championship in 2012 as a member of the Admirals.

Panik was originally drafted by the Lightning in the second round, 52nd overall, at the 2009 NHL Draft.

Following the injury to Steven Stamkos and partly due to his own performance, Panik had been bumped off the so-called "Kid/Top Gun Line" with fellow rookies Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, who now form the top trio with captain Martin St. Louis. Panik has been inserted sparingly into the lineup over the past month and a half as an extra forward alongside Ryan Malone, usually skating at or around 10 minutes of time on ice all at even strength:

As noted in the Top 25 Under 25 piece, Panik has struggled with his role on this team and with the NHL game in general, but has also hit a bit of a cold streak in terms of shooting luck. He has the lowest PDO (on-ice shooting + save percentage) on the team and he's seen his minutes cut down and a downgrade in linemates as a result, so he's not exactly being given an opportunity to claw out of his funk.

By sending him down to Syracuse -- even though it may frustrate the player -- GM Steve Yzerman is doing just that: giving Panik an opportunity to reclaim his confidence, his scoring touch, and his status as a top offensive prospect for this franchise. Like Brett Connolly before him, going down to Syracuse shouldn't necessarily be viewed as a demotion or punishment for poor performance in the NHL; rather, as a calculated move to get him more minutes and a larger role so he can continue developing into a permanent NHL forward.

Furthermore, as Erik Erlendsson notes, the team has to make room on the roster for the eventual Steven Stamkos return. Stamkos, who is now participating in practices with a red no-contact jersey and even taking some drills, might be ready for NHL game action as soon as February 8 at home against the Detroit Red Wings, the final regular season game for the Lightning before the Olympic break:

Sending Panik down now is also good for the Lightning, as it opens up a spot on the roster for Stamkos to fill once he is activated off IR. The team still has Tom Pyatt available as an extra forward on the current NHL roster, and while it's been made public that Yzerman would like to move Pyatt, for the time being he is a good stopgap that allows this move.

Perhaps getting the biggest benefit from this move, however, is the Syracuse Crunch, looking to rebound after an abysmal December that saw them plummet in the standings. Things are starting to look up, however, as Brett Connolly has started playing well, Vladislav Namestnikov has returned from injury, and veteran forward Jon DiSalvatore has added some scoring the Crunch thought they were going to get out of players like Evan Rankin.

In Josh Weissbock's most recent AHL possession estimations, the Crunch have fought their way back into the top 10 at 51.32% (8th in the NHL) and the addition of Panik can only help a Crunch team that still sits in last in their division with a 17-15-2-4 record.