Richard Panik has that look of a guy who’s just happy to be here – finally.
“I was supposed to fly somewhere else to get the visa. Then I found out I could get it in Toronto but it still didn’t work out, so I had to wait,” Panik said with a smile.
But all that paperwork fun is now behind Panik, who donned a No. 14 jersey and participated in his first skate with the Blackhawks on Tuesday morning. Now he’s just ready to take advantage of the opportunity he could be getting.
Panik will not play when the Blackhawks host the Nashville Predators but coach Joel Quenneville said the latest acquisition will get in on the next trip, either in Montreal or Toronto. When the Blackhawks first acquired Panik on Jan. 3, Quenneville said he could get a shot on one of the team’s top lines – figure that to mean the first line, since Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane are still clicking on the second. That could still be a possibility, but Quenneville wants to get Panik going before figuring things out.
“It’s good to see him at least get here. He went through a tough process getting over the border but he’s here now,” Quenneville said. “We’ll get him on the ice and [get] a couple of skates for him before we determine whether he plays in Montreal or Toronto.”
It won’t be easy to crack a lineup that’s won seven in a row coming into Tuesday’s game. But Quenneville said that wouldn’t be a reason to keep Panik out, either.
“It’s always something to consider,” Quenneville said. “Sometimes you have to measure the success. Sometimes you don’t want to change a winning lineup, which we normally don’t do. But a couple of games ago we changed, and the guy [Brandon Mashinter] comes in and scores a goal. So every game’s different. We’ll see.”
With Panik the Blackhawks get a left wing with some experience – 151 career NHL games. General manager Stan Bowman said he’s been looking at Panik as a possibility for some time.
“He's got a lot of talent and he's had some opportunities in the NHL,” Bowman. “He didn't really get an opportunity this year [in Toronto]. He's a big guy, he can skate, he's got good hands and I think he's just looking for that opportunity to find the right mix and hopefully it'll be a nice fit. We'll see here. We're just getting him going. Today was the first time we've had him on the ice and we'll give him a chance to get up to speed, but we're excited to see him in a game.”
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Panik was hoping to make the Maple Leafs this season but that didn’t happen. He was playing with the Leafs’ minor-league team, the Marlies, when he got word of the trade.
“I was excited,” said Panik, who understands breaking into and staying in this lineup won’t be easy. “It’s a good team. I have to earn a spot so I’ll do my best and hopefully it’ll work out for me.”