With the Florida Panthers rookie camp approaching in the coming weeks, I share some of my thoughts on a few highlighted players.
The Florida Panthers will be holding their rookie camp on Tuesday, Sept. 10 and Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 9:30 AM. Fifteen forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders constitute the numerical breakdown of the players attending the camp.
The camp will be highlighted by current Panther Henrik Borgstrom, 2017 first-round pick and former Steelhead Owen Tippett, 2017 second-round pick Aleksi Heponiemi, as well as 2018 second-round pick and current General Serron Noel.
Of course, not all of these players are going to make the team straight out of camp, and for a number of reasons spanning from returning to juniors or simply not being ready just yet to step into NHL action.
With that said, here are my bullet-point thoughts on a few highlighted players at the camp this year.
Owen Tippett (Mississauga/Saginaw, OHL)
- At 20 years of age, Tippett is heading into camp as one of the more experienced members of the Florida Panthers prospect pool. He comes in after splitting the year with Mississauga and Saginaw in 2018-19, finishing with 74 points in 54 games.
- At this stage of his career (and as a former tenth overall pick), Tippett really needs to find his breakthrough at the NHL level. He’s only participated in seven NHL matches, recording a goal by the end of it.
- This camp will surely be the most important one for Tippett as he looks to grab a full-time roster spot with the Panthers this year.
- With all of this considered, Tippett cannot go another season without any NHL action. He simply needs to make the roster straight out of camp or at the very least, receive a call-up during the year.
- Regardless, Tippett’s game has improved over the last year but his game away from the puck still needs work (defensive zone mainly). Without any two-way style of play to his game, Tippett will not favor well when it comes down to the coaching staff constructing the final roster.
- We all know what Tippett is capable of when the puck is on his stick, but until he rounds out his game, he won’t be seeing any playing time at the NHL level. For his sake, I hope he has an amazing camp and that he shows the coaching staff how much he wants to start the year in the big leagues with the Cats.
- The top prospect label is starting to wear off on Tippett as he continues to age. At this point, juniors isn’t an option anymore, and if Owen can’t crack the Panthers’ roster, then he’ll have to start the year in the minors with the Springfield Thunderbirds. As a soon-to-be 21-year-old, the clock is ticking on Owen Tippett…
Henrik Borgstrom (Florida Panthers)
- I think we all know that Borgstrom will be on the Florida Panthers roster to start the year, barring anything extremely unusual.
- He’s expected to start as the Panthers’ third-line centerman. The issue pertaining to Borgstrom is how the Panthers can better utilize the Finn offensively. Last year, under Boughner, Borgstrom was deployed primarily as a defensive forward, and because of that, his numbers were quite underwhelming.
- This year, though, the Panthers have a brand new coaching staff put in place, led by 3x Stanley Cup-winning head coach, Joel Quenneville. Under Quenneville’s command, it’s hard to believe that he’ll continue to place Borgstrom in a position where he can’t succeed. By just watching footage of the 22-year-old, Coach Q sees (and understands) that Borgstrom is at his best when he’s allowed to display his creative side.
- Simply, Borgstrom is at full force when he’s allowed to push play, create chances with his creative mind, as well as score goals from a multitude of angles.
- If the Panthers want to get the best use out of what’s going to be their third-line centerman, then they’re going to have to utilize his strengths and deploy him as what he really is: a creative, two-way center. Expect Q and Co. to do exactly that, while getting full use from their third line, which Bob Boughner failed to do during his time in South Florida.
Aleksi Heponiemi (Karpat, Liiga)
- Heponiemi had a solid year with Karpat in 2018-19. The young Finn registered 46 points in 50 games, which ranked as the 12th most in Liiga last season.
- For Heponiemi, camp will provide him the chance to showcase his improved game to the Panthers coaching staff. The only thing standing in his way is his light frame, and with no NHL experience under his belt, Heponiemi will be entering the camp looking from the outside in.
- With that noted, many expect Hepo to start the season in the minors and potentially receive a call-up from the Cats later in the year. At this current point, it’s fair to predict that he just isn’t ready to start off in the big leagues, considering the light frame that he carries. Of course, there are others (like Borgstrom) who have and had light frames when they first started off. But it’s key to note that Borgstrom was ahead of Heponiemi from a progression standpoint, and unless we see something that we’ve never seen from Hepo before, it’s unlikely that he’ll make the Panthers’ starting roster.
- Given that all of this occurs, starting off in the minors wouldn’t be a bad thing for Heponiemi and his game. He will have the chance to play on a North American ice surface, as well as the platform to grow and develop. It’s critical that Florida doesn’t rush Heponiemi. Even if he doesn’t play or see any NHL action this season, just participating in the AHL is a step in the right direction for Heponiemi and his development. Regardless, camp this year will be about showcasing his progress and not necessarily gunning full-out for an NHL roster spot.
Serron Noel (Oshawa Generals, OHL)
Like Heponiemi, camp will provide Noel the chance to showcase his abilities to the coaching staff. At just 19 years of age, Noel is still young and raw and isn’t expected to make the Panthers just yet.
Instead, camp will purely serve as a platform to show what he has to offer down the road from now. Noel, who has a Bjugstad-like frame, could probably handle the NHL’s physicality. However, Noel’s skill set is what he needs to harness as he continues to grow. With time, Noel will be fully ready to step into the NHL full-time. But the time isn’t now…
Expect Noel to “wow” the eyes of many – but don’t be fooled by his skill set – the youngster isn’t ready to start playing. Another year in the OHL should serve him well.
Stay tuned for more coverage as we reach the coming weeks of September. On tab: full training camp begins on Friday, Sept. 13, followed by the start of preseason on Monday, Sept. 16.