Detroit — In a way, Richard Panik has been “the other guy” in the Red Wings’ big trade this week.
Much of the attention since the Wings dealt Anthony Mantha to Washington has been on Jakub Vrana, the main centerpiece the Capitals sent back to Detroit.
But Panik, 30, is hardly a throw-in. He has been in the NHL since 2012-13, when he debuted with Tampa Bay after he was a 2009 second-round pick by the Lightning.
Panik has scored as much as 22 goals in a season (2016-17 with Chicago) and has been a versatile NHL forward wherever he’s played.
After signing a four-year contract with Washington as a free agent in the summer of 2019, the fit with the Capitals simply hadn’t been smooth.
Many fans see Panik as a salary dump, but coach Jeff Blashill sees a potential lineup fixture for the Wings.
Blashill first saw Panik when he was coaching Grand Rapids against Panik’s Syracuse team in the 2013 Calder Cup championship.
“Richard was their best forward,” Blashill said during Thursday’s Zoom media chat after the morning skate. “That’s a team that had (Ondrej) Palat and (Tyler) Johnson and some real good players. Those three played together (on a line), but I thought Panik was their best forward.
“He’s a big, strong guy who has ability. We’ve talked all year long about trying to have good depth of scoring and depth of offense and being able to play four lines. He gives us another guy, and I don’t know where in those lines he fits exactly, we’ll see. But the point is, at times he’s been a good NHL player, and if he can be a good NHL player for us, that’s another guy that can bring depth for us.”
And that kind of NHL quality player is important for the current Wings roster.
“We’ll win as a team,” Blashill said. “We’re not going to win as individuals, or one or two guys. So the more good players you have on your roster, the better.
“That depth is extremely important.”
Area of improvement
One area where the Wings are noticeably getting better, and have been particularly effective lately, is the penalty kill.
Of the last 17 opposing power plays, the Wings have killed 16 of them. Included in that number is a perfect 12-for-12 against Tampa Bay and Carolina, who possess two of the best power plays in the NHL.
The Wings have inched up to rank 25th in the NHL, at 76.2%, after hanging near the basement most of the season.
What’s been the difference?
“We changed our approach a little bit in terms of what we do in the zone,” Blashill said. “It’s a little different. Obviously last year we didn’t have the same success so it’s not a foolproof system, but our guys have done a good job with it.
“I also think our PK 1-3 forecheck has been better. We’ve had way better stands at the line, and we’ve forced the puck out of the opponents’ hands and gotten clears. We’ve won face-offs and gotten clears.
“And when we haven’t, we’ve done a good job structurally making teams beat us and we’ve gotten good goaltending when we’ve needed it.”
Blashill wouldn’t divulge his goaltending plans for the remaining 12 games, but it’s likely both Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss will get a fair amount of work with both playing well.
“Certainly we have a plan,” Blashill said. “Both have played good. Bernier’s first game was a tough game, both for our team and he wasn’t as his best. But the last game (Monday in Carolina) he was excellent.
“Greiss has done a real good job over the last four or five games and solidified his game.
“As we said at the start of the year, we’re better off with two good goalies than one. We’ll utilize both of them.”
… Defenseman Gustav Lindstrom made his season debut Monday, and Blashill has seen improvement in different areas.
“He’s going to have to be a really good defender that’s a good first-pass guy, and he’s got that ability,” Blashill said.
… Although he’s begun working out in practice, Robby Fabbri (upper body) missed his sixth consecutive game.