Entering this season, Richard Panik is enjoying a security he hasn’t had much in his professional hockey career. After a few years of uncertainty, he enters this season knowing he is definitely part of an NHL roster. He’s coming off a career season and didn’t hesitate to sign the two-year deal the Blackhawks offered him in the summer.
Feeling secure of where he is? After being uncertain his first few years in the league, sure. Feeling satisfied with where he is? Oh, not at all.
“I don’t want to be satisfied with the contract and everything from last season. It’s the past,” he said following Wednesday’s practice. “Now I have other goals I want to achieve and I’m just focusing on that.”
Panik is coming off an impressive season in which he found good chemistry and production with Jonathan Toews on the top line. He’ll be starting there again this season with Toews and Brandon Saad, and the three have been feeling more comfortable as camp has progressed. As far as his individual stats, Panik’s career-high numbers in goals (22), assists (22) and points (44) are all nice and good, but that was last season. It would be easy to feel pressure with the bigger contract and bigger expectations but Panik isn’t feeling it – at least when it comes to focusing too much on numbers.
“I think that’s going to be the biggest problem, if I focus on that,” he said. “I’ll keep it simple, do what got me here and just go from there. As soon as I don’t think about points they come in a game. If I’m going to play on a good side every time on the ice, chances will get to me and hopefully something will go in. Do the small things on the ice, help teammates and go from there.”
Panik likely felt as much pressure – maybe even more – last season when he was on a one-year deal and hoping to stick around longer. It came through in his play, from the points to his drive-the-net style, of which the Blackhawks always want more.
“It works both ways, whether it’s pressure when you get the contract or pressure trying to earn one. So I think as pros, with some guys that focus is secondary. Their motivation to be as good as they can be on a daily basis is what they’re all about and that’s what gets them to our level,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Bringing a consistency with his game is probably something he seemed to be doing over the last little while and we hope he can continue on. He provides us with an element of physicality as well as skill and net presence. He does a lot of good things for us.”
Panik is in a more secure place this season but he’s not satisfied with what he’s done to this point. The Blackhawks’ top line could be a strong one again and Panik hopes to keep adding to it.
“Those last [few] years I was on the edge; I didn’t know if I’d play in the AHL or NHL. I had to make a team. Now it’s a different situation. I have a contract and I think I earned it last season,” Panik said. “Now I have to prove it this season.”