by Alain Poupart / NHL.com Correspondent
SUNRISE, Fla. — Owen Tippett found himself playing defense during a 3-on-3 drill on the final day of Florida Panthers development camp last month, part of the Panthers’ intent regarding the 19-year-old forward.
Florida selected Tippett with the No. 10 pick in the 2017 NHL draft because of his offensive skills, but he needs to improve in his own end to become the kind of player it envisions.
“Obviously I’m going to do anything I can to help them,” Tippett said. “I’m pretty sure I’ve established myself as a goal scorer and also I want to be able to be reliable on the defensive end.”
Tippett played seven games for the Panthers last season, making his NHL debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 17 and scoring his first NHL goal against the Anaheim Ducks nine days later.
But he was returned to Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League with a clear message after averaging 11:07 of ice time and having a minus-6 rating.
“Just be more of a 200-foot player,” Tippett said. “Don’t take anything off and just continue to work on my complete game. I think I’m a lot better. They gave me some things to work on when I went back to Mississauga and I thought I did a pretty good job with focusing on those parts every game and every practice.”
Tippett returned for his second development camp with the Panthers stronger, more mature and more balanced, and will be among a large group of talented young forwards battling for a roster in training camp.
“The experience of him being here for [seven] games last year really helped him, just set him up,” Florida general manager Dale Tallon said. “He knows what he has to do to get here to make the team. Junior habits are hard to break sometimes. I think he’s come this year with more of a professional approach than last year.
“It’s not a 21- or 22-year-old we’re drafting. We have to be patient with him, and we are. I like his mental approach and physically he’s starting to grow into his body (6-foot-2, 203 pounds) and get to be a man and he knows now what he has to do. In junior, he can pretty well control the pace and do what he needs to, but here the pace has to be constant.”
If Tippett ends up making the Panthers roster, it likely will be for his offensive prowess. Florida has the makings of two solid forward lines after acquiring forward Mike Hoffmanin a trade with the San Jose Sharks on June 19, hours after the Sharks acquired him in a trade with the Ottawa Senators. But the Panthers are looking for more scoring balance.
Tippett, who scored 150 points (80 goals, 70 assists) in 91 games the past two seasons for Mississauga, has the ability to help, and has the benefit of a taste of the NHL.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “Any young kid that gets that opportunity to play games in the NHL and learn from everyday pros is pretty special. Even my time at the end of the year with Springfield [of the American Hockey League] helped just to kind of get both sides of it. Obviously I learned a lot and I brought it back and gained on it.”