The Florida Panthers are gearing up for what should be an exciting season, making their final roster moves to solidify their 23-man squad.
Last year’s first-round selection, Owen Tippett, failed to make the team. However, it may be right for both the team and the player.
Tippett has played just seven NHL games, with his first NHL goal and a -6 plus/minus to show for it. He spent the rest of the season primarily back in Mississauga – where despite his impressive performances – he won’t be joining the Panthers at the beginning of the season.
Other prospects who were taken in that draft such as Miro Heiskanen, Casey Mittelstadt, and Nick Suzuki are all prepared to crack their respective rosters, and it can be seen as disappointing for the Canadian not to be on the Panthers.
So, why hasn’t Tippett cracked the roster? Once his form came to him, his play with the Mississauga Steelheads was even more commendable than his season of the Entry Draft.
In 2016-17, he recorded 75 points over 60 games, and this past season, he again tallied 75 points, yet in nine fewer games. He averages over a point per game in his OHL career, above players like Nazem Kadri and Jeff Carter. All these stats in mind, Tippett did all of this as a teenager, and he’s still 19 years of age.
A serious problem with Tippett and his NHL claim is the simple idea that he just isn’t there yet. Playing his first NHL game at the beginning of the season as an 18-year-old is nothing like the OHL.
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Trocheck scored 1.1 points per game at the OHL level, yet it took him two seasons to get onto the Panthers roster after being drafted back in 2011. Even when he reached the top, he scored just 30 points across 70 games in his first two seasons.
The biggest issue with Tippett’s first impression of NHL hockey is his offense fails to make up for his lack in defense. Owen scored one goal on seventeen shots for Florida, and while it may be encouraging to have a player willing to shoot as many times as Tippett does, there’s always going to be somebody a little more clinical.
He put in a lot of bad performances, including a -2 showing in a bad loss against the Philadelphia Flyers in which he took seven shots and failed to muster a point. The Cats conceded a goal in six out of the seven games when Tippett was on the ice, and Tippett failed to really reply to his defensive failures.
His first NHL goal against the
may have shown his flashes of what kind of player he can be, but it just wasn’t consistent enough for him to keep his place.
Another problem for him is the depth that the Panthers have in their forward core. He’s not the only young winger waiting to break into the NHL.
The Panthers have Frank Vatrano, Denis Malgin, Anthony Greco, and Maxim Mamin at their dispense, and that’s just at the NHL level, with others like Jayce Hawryluk, Patrick Bajkov, Dryden Hunt, and Jonathan Ang in the AHL.
Throw in last year’s second-round pick of Aleksi Heponiemi, as well as this year’s top two picks in Grigori Denisenko and Serron Noel, and there’s not a lot of room to go around for Tippett. Players like Greco and Ang have heavily impressed this preseason, and both failed to make the team.
Where Tippett ranks on that list seems to be unknown. He may not have Ang’s speed or Noel’s size, but the kid is going to have a future on an NHL power play.
The reason the power play might be implied is because the Panthers power play hasn’t been up to par in the last few seasons. It’s never really had someone who runs the play from the wing or even a reliable option on the wing.
This is one of the reasons Mike Hoffman was brought in, but otherwise, the Cats still need a true shooter. Frank Vatrano has given that option, but questions about his overall talent remain unproven, as he still has a very small Panthers scale size.
Mississauga had the 2nd best power play out of any OHL team last season, scoring on 25.5% of their man advantages. Tippett was one of two Steelhead players in the top 25 power play goals, finishing with eleven.
As said, the shift from OHL to NHL is massive, yet only one Panther scored more than eleven on the power play last season (Trocheck with thirteen). It’s the kind of talent that may have him wind up on the roster at some other time this season.
Even Dale Tallon commented on the youngster’s play, commending his shot and the need to have a kind of player to commit to goals in the club ranks.
Starting with Tippett off the NHL roster to open the season is the right call. If he can continue to grow in a place that he’s played for over three years, he can make a claim for the fourth line in the second half of the season.
Mississauga has been nothing but beneficial for the 19-year-old, and the staff there have been extremely positive for him, in particular, Steelheads head coach James Richmond:
"“When we got [Tippett], he was sixteen-years-old. He’s matured quite a bit, obviously he’s gotten a lot bigger… stronger… faster. He puts a lot of detail into his game, he comes in the morning, works on the development process with the coaches in the morning… He was always a real good player, now he’s turned around to be a real good junior…”"
For now, the Panthers’ bottom-six is filled with enough youth, headlined by Jared McCann, Henrik Borgstrom, Maxim Mamin, Frank Vatrano, and Denis Malgin, all under the age of 24. Four of those five have legitimate NHL experience, and one is a dark horse candidate for the Calder Trophy.
The bottom-six may change a lot this year, and it’s going to be challenging for a lot of the prospects that were just named to perform under the pressure of a playoff team. If Tippett wants in, he’s got to take his chance when it comes to him.