Slumping Richard Panik out, slumping Ryan Hartman in vs. Panthers

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Blackhawks forward Richard Panik (14) has five goals and 14 points this season, but has not scored in the Hawks’ last 21 games. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

It was only last season, but Richard Panik’s career-year seems like a long time ago.

The 26-year-old Blackhawks forward, who signed a two-year, $5.6 million contract in the offseason after setting career highs with 22 goals and 44 points on Jonathan Toews’ line in 2016-17, picked up where he left off in the first two weeks of the 2017-18 season, with five goals and eight points in the Hawks first nine games.

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But he has not scored a goal since Oct. 21 against the Coyotes — a 21-game drought that finally is expected to earn him a healthy scratch for Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers at the United Center. Panik has five goals and 14 points and is a plus-3 this season. Ryan Hartman, himself a healthy scratch the previous two games with a 15-game goal-less skein, is expected to replace Panik on the third line with Patrick Sharp and Vinnie Hinostroza.

It would Panik’s first healthy scratch since the end of the 2015-16 season, when he scored six goals and eight points in 30 games after being acquired from the Maple Leafs for Jeremy Morin.

Coach Joel Quenneville intimated that it’s more than the goal drought that earned Panik a spot on the bench.

“We think he could be way more dangerous and can add to our team game by being more of a power forward — physically getting more involved and having the puck more,” Quenneville said. “Whether he’s shooting or around the net, disturbing there —but having the puck and keeping it more, as opposed to being a dead-end at that end when he does get around [the puck].”

The 6-1, 208-pound Panik has been trying to work his way through the drought, figuring eventually he’d break through — as happens with most goal-scorers. But lately, it seems like the harder he tries, the tougher his luck has gotten. Panik has not even had an assist in the last seven games, and is a minus-4 in that span. His plus-3 rating for the season is largely skewed by the Hawks’ hot start, when he was a plus-6 in opening routs of the Penguins and Blue Jackets.

But even when Panik was in the midst of his breakthrough season, consistency was an issue. He had a 17-game goal-scorin drought early last season after scoring six goals in the Hawks’ first six games. He worked his way out of that slump — which he broke coincidentally against the Panthers at the United Center. But that’s when Hawks were in first place in the Central Division and leading the Western Conference in points. Now they’re sixth in the division, tied for ninth in the conference and currently out of the playoff picture.

“Last year he really put a nice stretch together — a guy that deserves quality minutes and gave us more than just scoring,” Quenneville said. “His career has been a situation where trying to put it all together game-in, game-out over a long stretch is the challenge.”

Franson out, Oesterle in

With defenseman Cody Franson still out — day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Quenneville said — Jordan Oesterle played in his second consecutive game, again with Duncan Keith.

The 25-year-old Oesterle, signed as a free agent after playing 25 games over three seasons with the Oilers,had been a healthy scratch for 18 of 19 games prior to playing against the Coyotes on Sunday. Oesterle had one assist —his aggressive entry into the offensive zone led to Tommy Wingels’ goal off a pass from John Hayden that broke a scoreless tie.

“The more you play in a game, you feel more involved, your game starts to come a little more,” Oesterle said. “That kind of helped me out [Sunday] — not being sheltered, just kind of rolling the D-pairings and playing helped me get back to my game as quickly as I could.”

Stepping up in class

After beating the last-place Coyotes and Sabres and facing the fifth-place Panthers, the Hawks face the much-improved Jets (18-8-5, No. 3 in the Western Conference) in Winnipeg on Thursday night. The Jets are 10-0-1 in their last 11 home games this season.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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