Richard Panik laced up the skates and put on a Blackhawks sweater for the first time earlier than expected.
Well, at least in a game.
The 24-year-old winger was acquired on Jan. 3 from Toronto in exchange for forward Jeremy Morin, but Panik's arrival was delayed more than a week due to visa issues.
Despite joining the team on Monday, head coach Joel Quenneville planned to insert Panik into the lineup against either Montreal or Panik's former team Toronto (or perhaps both), but had to make a quick change after Artem Anisimov, who participated in morning skate Tuesday, was listed as an unexpected scratch due to an illness he suffered an hour and a half before the game.
That opened the door for the Panik, who didn't know he'd be playing Tuesday night until shortly before puck drop.
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"I got a call at 6:15 to see if I can make it and I said I will try," Panik said following a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators which gave the Blackhawks their eighth straight win. "The traffic downtown was terrible. It took me like an hour to get here."
Welcome to Chicago.
In his debut, Panik skated at left wing on the third line with Phillip Danault and Andrew Desjardins, but didn't get much action.
He logged just 6:56 of ice time, partly due to 12 combined penalties committed by both teams. It seemed like every other shift the Blackhawks were either on the power play, where they went 0-for-4, or the penalty kill, where they went 7-for-8, and Panik admitted it was tough to find a rhythm because of it.
But he wouldn't use it as an excuse.
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"Yeah it was hard, but you have to stay focused and when it's your turn, you have to be ready," he said.
Panik already has an early fan in Quenneville, who opted to go with the newly-acquired forward over Bryan Bickell, who was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.
"I didn't mind him. I thought he got better," Quenneville, who tied Al Arbour for second-most wins in NHL history with 782 following Tuesday's win, said of Panik. "I thought he made some really good plays, good hits, he's got some speed to his game. I liked a lot of things he did, so that was encouraging."
Panik appeared in 76 regular-season games with the Maple Leafs last season, where he scored 11 goals and six assists. He spent his first two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who drafted him in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft. But he found himself on the outside looking in when rosters were finalized at the beginning of the year, and he was disappointed he didn't make the cut.
Now in Chicago, the Slovakian will have a legitimate shot to remain on the NHL roster and is "excited" about the opportunity of joining a Stanley Cup contender.
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Panik's journey started Tuesday by not doing too much.
He drew a penalty in the third period. He made a nice defensive play to prevent an odd man rush one shift later. He registered a team-high four hits. Those are things that don't stick out on the stat sheet, but sometimes it's a good thing when you go unnoticed. That means you're simply doing your job.
Overall, it wasn't a bad debut for a guy who was expecting to watch the game from his hotel room.
"I wasn't ready for it," Panik said. "But as soon as I got here, I tried to warm up a little bit, hit the ice and tried to play simple."