Today, Canada plays Slovakia at the World Juniors, their second meeting this year. Leaf forward Richard Panik certainly knows a thing or two about those games, having played Canada at the 2010 championship, albeit in a less important preliminary matchup that ended up 8-2 in favour of Canada.
Panik played for three seperate Slovakian national junior teams, starting at age 17 until he turned 19.
2009: Though he was just 17, Panik played a fairly large role with the Slovakian team. Panik recorded two goals and three assists, posting five points in his seven games. Panik’s biggest moment came in the quarterfinals where he scored the game winner in a massive upset over the American team.
2010: Panik finished third in goal-scoring in the tournament with six in six games, while adding two assists.
2011: Not to be outdone by his six goals the year earlier, Panik added seven goals in his six games
As a whole, Panik posted 22 points in 19 games. You really couldn’t ask for a whole lot more, especially while playing on a middle-of-the-pack team like Slovakia traditionally is.
2009: After a large upset in the quarterfinals, Slovakia fell in the semifinals to Sweden (who subsequently lost in the gold medal game to Canada.) Slovakia then lost 5-2 to Russia in the bronze medal game. It was their best finish in team history, although they have a chance to improve on that finish that over the next two days.
2010: Slovakia finished eighth in the tournament, but that placing had more meaning than it does today, with the ninth and tenth place teams getting relegated, as opposed to the one team that gets relegated today.
2011: Slovakia again finished eighth, narrowly avoiding relegation for a second straight year.
Panik didn’t have much of an NHL-heavy roster to compete with, as just Tomas Tatar (2009 & 10) and Tomas Jurco (2011) have managed to crack an NHL roster for any serious time.
The scouts’ take:
Following his first tournament, Panik was drafted in 2009 in the second round by Tampa Bay. Hockeysfuture.com labelled Panik as “a highly-skilled, offensively-gifted forward with the size and speed needed to be a constant scoring threat.” It’s still a little odd that a player with clear skill such as Panik was placed on waivers earlier in the season by Tampa, allowing Toronto to claim him. Panik clearly showed at the WJC his ability to score goals, which he’s done this year seven times for the Leafs. At even strength, he ranks third on the team in the Goals/60 minutes category, behind just Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. Among forwards who have played at least 200 minutes, he’s 35th out of 365 in that category. Panik hasn’t really been able to get top-six minutes in the league yet, so it’s unknown if he’s just riding hot percentages or really has potential to become a legitimate offensive threat like he showed at the WJC and is showing in his limited minutes in Toronto.