Richard Park's Return To The Penguins Shows How Far He Has Come

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 15: Richard Park #12 of the Pittsburgh Penguins watches the puck during a faceoff in the third period against the Buffalo Sabres during the game on October 15, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Park started at the top. But after he found himself quickly plummeting down the ladder of the hockey world, he had to reimagine himself.

Richard Park was what you could call a bust as a youngster. Funny, then, that he's made such an impressive return to the Penguins as a veteran.

A second-round draft choice in 1994, Park was looked at as enough of a talent to get his first taste of NHL action at the end of the 1994-95 season, where he appeared in one regular-season game and three playoff games for the Penguins as a 19-year-old.

He increased that number of games to 56 in 1995-96, scoring 10 points in the process. That's where things went awry, and the Penguins, less than impressed with his talent, traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for the forgettable Roman Oksiuta.

Park continued to bounce around, being released by Anaheim two years later, before being signed by the Flyers, who then released him after a year. In 1999, at 24, Park was signed by the Utah Grizzlies of the International Hockey League.

The Minnesota Wild decided to take a chance on Park and signed him in 2000, but didn't immediately promote him to the NHL. He played another season in the IHL, this time with the Cleveland Lumberjacks. By this time, Park was, unsurprisingly, one of the better, more consistent players in the minor leagues.

Still, for whatever reason, at 25, Richard Park was not an NHL regular. In any capacity.

That changed the following season. After Park had a torrid start in the minors, the Wild finally called him up.

Park's game had matured by then, and he quickly established himself as a very interesting third line option. He was very effective at killing penalties, and he also avoided taking penalties. He chipped in with the occasional goal, to boot. 

Park spent three seasons with the Wild, before spending a year in Europe, during the lockout, and another in Vancouver. He was signed by the New York Islanders in 2006, and quickly became their top penalty-killer. He was also incredibly durable - in three of his four seasons on Long Island, Park played a full 82-game slate. 

After spending last season in Switzerland, Park, now 35, was signed to a one-year, two-way contract by the Penguins in early September. A contract of little commitment, Park may have looked like just another depth option. Those who had seen him since his departure from Pittsburgh knew what he could provide, and knew that the Richard Park who now donned black and gold was not the same as the one last seen in those colors.

Park stood out in training camp, easily making the Penguins injury-thinned roster. Park was a healthy scratch at the start of the season, sitting out the Penguins first three games of the season.

Since then, similar to his career path, he's inched his way up the depth chart, surpassing Mark Letestu and frequently finding himself on the Penguins third line. Essentially, he has filled in for Max Talbot, and done so admirably.

Through nine games, Park has scored six points, including a short-handed goal, and now finds himself getting a regular shift on the NHL's top penalty killing unit. 

Park's trip through the world of hockey is in some ways typical, and in others atypical. Many players don't pan out at first, and must find ways of forcing their way into the NHL, to earn that spotlight and bigger paycheck. A majority go the route of goonery, and if you were to ask most fighters why they do what they do, they'd tell you it's because they want to stay in the show, not because they enjoy punching faces.

Park had to take a different route. Diminutive and skilled, but not skilled enough, Park molded himself into a supporting player and made it in the big leagues.

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