After the Capitals and right wing Brett Connolly decided to part ways this summer, Brian MacLellan and the Capitals needed to fill his spot on the third line. MacLellan moved fast, and signed veteran right winger Richard Panik to a four year, 11 million dollar contract. The former second round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning has been somewhat of a journeyman, now entering his seventh year in the NHL, and suiting up for his fifth team in Washington.
While Panik isn’t what you’d call a “sexy” free agent acquisition, his underlying analytics and contributions should slot in nicely on the Capitals two-way third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. In this piece, we’ll dive into Panik’s performance so far in his NHL career and investigate what we might expect from him this season in a Capitals’ sweater.
First off, we’ll take a look at Panik’s career so far in what you’d call “standard statistics”. These include the common measurables for skaters, like goals, assists, points, and shooting percentage. Here’s what Panik has accomplished in his career thus far (via Hockey-Reference):
One thing should stand out to you right away: Panik has only played a full NHL season once in his six years in the NHL. He’s been fairly more healthy in the past three seasons, playing in 229 of a possible 246 games. Realistically, that’s not much to be concerned about in a vacuum, but with a somewhat injury-prone TJ Oshie in front of him, an overlapping injury for these two could significantly affect the Capitals’ forward depth.
Other than that, Panik has cracked the 20-goal milestone once in his career, but has scored 14 in both of his past two campaigns, split between Chicago and Arizona. There’s something in the water in Arizona causing consistent scoring dips, which could realistically mean that Panik can crack the 20-goal mark with the Caps.
Consider Max Domi (who admittedly is much more of a skilled offensive player than Panik). Domi was traded to Montreal for Alex Galchenyuk last off-season, and went from scoring 9 goals, 36 assists, 45 points, and a 6.0% shooting percentage to scoring 28 goals, 44 assists, 72 points, and a 13.8% shooting percentage. Domi only averaged 39 seconds more in ice time in Montreal, and saw his goal scoring totals triple. Panik shot under his career shooting percentage last season, and still scored 14 goals in Arizona.
One of the possible reasons why MacLellan was drawn to Panik was his play on both ends of the ice. Over his career, Panik has accumulated more takeaways than giveaways. This is important for a third liner, as it helps the Caps maintain more possession of the puck. We’ll get more into his actual possession stats in the next section, but overall, Panik can be trusted in his own end, which should allow Todd Reirden to trust him in defensive zone face-offs late in games.
Panik’s underlying analytics regarding his possession stats are what I think drew MacLellan to Panik in the first place. The Capitals struggled to suppress opponent shots, had a bottom tier penalty kill, and gave up a bevy of high danger chances last season. All of MacLellan’s acquisitions this summer had one thing in common: high levels of shot suppression. Here are Panik’s possession metrics over his career (via Hockey-Reference):
Starting in his age 26 season in 2017-18, Panik turned into a very good possession player. He came out above 50% in both Chicago and Arizona over the past two seasons in Corsi For % and Fenwick For %. (Corsi and Fenwick are both metrics for measuring shot attempts for and shot attempts against at even strength. If you’re performing at above a 50% in those metrics, the chances are that your team is controlling the puck more often when you’re on the ice). Not only that, it’s apparent that Panik wasn’t a “passenger” on a good line either. His relative possession stats (CF% rel and FF% rel) show that his teams were consistently controlling play while Panik was on the ice. It’s also impressive that Panik was able to maintain such a positive possession stats while starting 50.2% of the time in the defensive zone.
The floor for Panik in terms of his production is pretty apparent. He’s going to be a guy that can pot you around 15 goals a year, but won’t be a true depth scorer that you can rely on to score 20 or more goals. Interestingly enough, there’s a lot of similarities between Connolly and Panik’s statistical outputs prior to joining the Capitals. Before Connolly joined the Caps, the highest goal total he accomplished was 12 goals. Both were drafted by Tampa with early draft picks (Connolly was a first round pick, Panik a second).
The ceiling for Panik is a bigger question mark. He performed well in Chicago in 2016-17, where he scored 22 goals and 22 assists in a season where he only average 14:44 in time on ice. You can expect Panik to get around that time on ice this season, especially when he contributes on the penalty kill. The Capitals will certainly be happy with a 20 goal scorer who can kill penalties on their third line who is only being paid $2.75M a year for the next four years.
By Justin Trudel