The NHL Free Agency tamper window opened yesterday for unrestricted free agents. A week from today at noon EST. the new league year will begin and free agents will be free to sign with new clubs.
After coming out of the NHL Draft weekend without making any moves to improve the roster, it’s likely the Sabres are going to dip their toe into the free agent market next week. They may not get involved in the top-tier players, but there are roster improvements to be had in the mid-tier.
One such name is 28-year-old winger, Richard Panik. The Slovakia-native has spent the last season and a half with the Arizona Coyotes. Prior to that, he was with the Chicago Blackhawks for a few years.
Panik is one of the more underrated players in the league. He’s scored at least 33 points in each of the last three years and has had at least 14 goals in each of them. Over the last three seasons, he’s been a solid even-strength contributor as well by scoring at least 1.7 points per 60.
The former second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t a flashy player, but he’s a positive impact player offensively. According to Evolving Hockey, last season his on-ice xGF/60 was first on the Coyotes (2.59) at 5 on 5. Panik’s on-ice expected goals percentage was second on Arizona’s roster last season and his relative xG percentage was third on the club according to Moneypuck.
Micah McCurdy’s isolated impact chart for Panik also back up the strong offensive impact numbers. It grades him 8% better than the average player offensively by driving offense to the middle of the ice. The good news as well is that he doesn’t give any of it back with his defensive side of the game.
The shooting percentage on the right part of the chart also tells you that he shoots 1% above the league average. That isn’t by any means a rating that demands serious attention. However, when you put that together that with his knack of going to high-quality shooting areas, it’s a good combination. Panik actually shot 1.6 goals below expected last season at even strength according to Moneypuck. Meaning he should have had at least one or two more goals last season based on his shot quality. Moneypuck also had him ranked third on the Coyotes in xG/60 last season and first on the club the year prior.
I’ve talked about how the Sabres need to continue to add even strength scorers to their roster in the past. Panik would fit that need perfectly. Last season, Evolving Wild had him ranked as the 48th best forward in even-strength goals above replacement. He was tied with another well-known forward in Tampa Bay Lightning’s Brayden Point.
The Sabres have a need on the wing and Panik is a mid-tier free agent that could fill that need. He can play as a top-six winger with Jack Eichel like he did last season primarily in Arizona. Panik can also play as a veteran winger on a line with a young player like Casey Mittelstadt.
His contract as a free agent shouldn’t be anything of significance. Evolving Wild has him projected for a four-year contract with an average annual value of around $4.79 million.
We’ll see what general manager Jason Botterill has planned over the next few weeks to improve his roster. He would be wise to explore signing a few under the radar players like Panik when the market opens next week.