If you google "Richard Panik" and hit the video section, two top hits show up. One is of a dive he took in a game against the Washington Capitals, his second of last season, making him the first Maple Leafs player to be fined for diving.
Watching the video, what struck me was that Panik’s embellishment against Mike Green was more of a sarcastic commentary than anything else. He was trying to draw a penalty; Panik was agitating, saying "Screw you, my skating is better than your stick between my legs."
The second most-watched video is of Panik’s fight with Red Wings’ Brendan Smith. After watching the fight, I asked noted Red Wings blogger JJfromKansas about his impression of Panik. JJfromKansas said (and allowed me to quote): "He’s a butthole."
...Which is exactly what you want fans of opposing teams to say about an agitator. That fight was remarkable because of the way Panik sold it. Red Wings’ Smith had the puck behind the net, and released it a generous second before Panik barreled in to give him a reasonably legal, chest-first hit, although Panik’s elbow did stray up toward Smith’s chin. Smith took exception to the hit and gave him a two-handed hack to the chest, and of course Panik turned to engage him in the ensuing fight.
Another well-known Red Wings prospects blogger, Michelle (SlapshotGoal), was eager to add her assessment of Panik to this article:
I loath Dick F'ing Panik and it started in the 2013 Calder Cup Finals. In game 2 Panik charged Tomas Jurco in a dangerous dirt bag move. During game 3, Dick concussed Adam Almquist without even getting a penalty, much less a suspension. In game 4 Gustav Nyquist "speared" Panik and got ejected from the game. I was there and it was bull Sh**, even the Syracuse reporter admitted afterwards that he thought Panik got hit in the wrist by Nyquist's stick, instead of in the balls like he portrayed. The ref's bought it though and Goose was kicked out of the game. Though Dick didn't have any problem playing the rest of the game and being just fine once Nyquist was ejected. There's being a pest, then there's being a dangerous, diving piece of fecal matter like Dick F'ing Panik.
These charges are, indeed, grave, and are definitely part of the work that Panik has to do to keep his play on the legal side of agitation.
These moments of agitating are exactly what the Lightning currently have in Panik’s Syracuse Crunch teammate Cedric Paquette (the third-liner who was routinely deployed to shut down the Toews line in the SCF), and with some fine-tuning, it could be the kind of player Panik is developing into.
A former Calder Cup-winning linemate of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat (with the Norfolk Admirals in 2012), Panik was cut from Tampa’s lineup due to depth issues, but proved to everyone last year that he deserved a spot on the Leafs roster.
Used mainly in even-strength situations, Panik posted 17 points with an average ice time of less than 12 minutes per game, playing mostly alongside Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. At a reported 6’2, 212 lbs, he also doesn’t mind being physical, raking in 49 PIM last season, second only to (not to traumatize anyone) David Clarkson among Leafs forwards.
This emphasis on responsible play away from the puck might’ve been a coaching mandate. In an interview with ex-interim-coach Peter Horachek, Panik was described as being irresponsible with the puck -- and given the assignment to improve his defensive play. Horachek told the Toronto Star:
He gets himself in trouble sometimes because he tries things that are fancy, through the legs, and he puts himself in a position, or the team, where the puck is going the other way. We are harping a lot about managing the puck and making good decisions with the puck. I think he has a future in this game if he can just get the management of the puck part (down). It's not just one (time). It's a hundred times and I say it to him every time. It has gone on for games.
Did Panik take this to heart and improve his defensive play? Yes he did. Panik ended the season with a positive CF% (relative to his team) of 1.8, and provided secondary scoring too.
At 24 years old, Panik has carved himself a place on the team, but this year will undoubtedly be big for proving his further worth. Will he continue to be a physical presence, a bottom-six forward who is "hard to play against" but yet has enough skill to score? That’s his assignment for 2015-16.
Half of the voters placed Panik in their top 10, with the remaining votes spread out around the top 15. The relative consistency (at least when trying to get fourteen people to agree on the tenth-best player in an organization) was a significant factor in Panik's ascension to #9 on our list. Should Panik be able to assert his place among a number of new acquisitions in the Maple Leaf lineup, he can become an established NHL forward, though due to his age he won't get an opportunity to improve his ranking in next year's edition.