Is this the season Owen Tippett, the Florida Panthers’ top prospect, earns a full-time spot in the lineup?
Tippett the Goal Scorer
The Panthers drafted Tippett with the 10th-overall selection in the 2017 Draft for his ability to score goals, lots of goals, as many draft pundits ranked him as the purest goal scorer in his draft class.
Since being drafted, he has solidified his mark as a goal scorer, averaging nearly 35 goals and 75 points in two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, so his offensive skills appear NHL ready.
In those two seasons, he has backed up his pre-draft scouting report from NHL Central Scouting, which boasted about Tippett, “NHL shot and NHL skater – exceptional acceleration and separation speed to pull away – one of the best skaters and shooters in the draft class.”
Despite playing the majority of the past two seasons in juniors, Tippett did play seven NHL games with the Panthers in 2017-18. After having an impressive training camp that season, he earned a roster spot with the team. However, after scoring one goal in just seven NHL games, he was returned to the Mississauga Steelheads.
After scoring a team-high 36 goals with the Steelheads in 2017-18, expectations were high for Tippett to make the NHL roster last season. However, he did not make the NHL roster and went back to the Steelheads for more seasoning.
“Obviously it was disappointing when I first got back (to Mississauga) but it’s one of those things,” Tippett said recently during the Panthers 2019 Development Camp. “When you step back in the rink, it’s time to work and get better.”
Tippett received specific instructions last season on what areas of his game to improve from the Panthers staff and indications are that his defensive game has improved.
“They wanted me to develop my 200-foot game and develop playing away from the puck, positioning and just being in the right spots on the ice,” the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Tippett said. “When they give you criticism like that, you think about it and the first couple of weeks back I did a lot of video and watched a lot of hockey.”
While maturing and working to improve those areas, he scored 33 goals and 74 points last season, splitting time between the Steelheads, where he started the season, and the Saginaw Spirit. Tippett helped improve the Spirit immediately and the team made a deep run in the playoffs. He was dominant, tallying 11 goals and 22 points in 17 postseason games.
At the same time he focused on improving certain areas of his game, it is abundantly clear that Tippett is an offensively gifted winger who is a powerful skater with tons of speed and a lightning-quick release that can give opposing goalies nightmares.
Panthers Development Camp
In June, he completed his third Panthers development camp and the 20-year-old Tippett looked like a determined veteran and ready to become a regular in the NHL lineup come September.
“The first camp you’re coming in, you don’t really know what to expect. You’re playing more safe,” Tippett said. “Every time you come back here, you’re more and more confident and more comfortable and you just gotta play your game.”
When asked what was different at his third development camp, getting off to a good start with new head coach Joel Quenneville topped his list.
“A lot of new faces and new coaches, obviously,” Tippett said. “You gotta make a good first impression and another chance to learn and get better.”
After spending most of the past four seasons in the OHL, where he averaged 75 points per season in the last three, Tippett’s confidence continues to grow each year since being drafted.
“It’s huge (for my confidence). You have to be confident in your game and believe in what’s gotten you here is what’s gonna keep you here,” Tippett said. “My end goal is to be here in September (after training camp).”
Tippett’s maturation and development were reflected in his selection to play for Canada in the 2019 World Junior Championship, where he scored a pair of goals and added two assists in five games.
Why Tippett Should Make the NHL Roster
Based on his development over the past 24 months, Tippett appears to be NHL ready and follow the likes of the Panthers’ recent draft successes, such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Matheson, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad.
Plus, there appears to be an opening at right wing on the Panthers’ second line, next to Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck, where Tippett may fit quite nicely come September.
Should he make the roster, there is a good chance he may also see time on the second power-play unit.
There are also similarities between Tippett cracking the Panthers lineup this season and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad, who Quenneville coached. Saad took on a full-time NHL role at age 20, the same age as Tippett, and Quenneville allowed him to break into the league by playing with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, much like Tippett’s opportunity to play with Huberdeau, Barkov and Hoffman.
Lastly, Tippett’s salary cap hit of only $863,333 would go a long way to help the Panthers stay under the salary cap. As of July 24, the Panthers have only $2.4 million in salary cap spaceand still need to add three more players to get to a 23-man roster by opening night.
At that end of training camp, Quenneville and his staff will put together their roster with the goal of making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Tippett should earn a full-time spot to start this season.
I have followed the NHL since the early 1980s, when offense was king. I lived in the midwest until 2013, when I relocated to south Florida.