Florida Panthers

Panthers' top draft pick using past experiences to fuel future success

Owen Tippett, center, wears a Florida Panthers jersey after being selected by the team in the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Fri., June 23, 2017, in Chicago.
Owen Tippett, center, wears a Florida Panthers jersey after being selected by the team in the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Fri., June 23, 2017, in Chicago. AP

Owen Tippett sprayed away ice and sprinted toward the goal, his dreams tied to the puck at the end of his stick.

This was why he was viewed as a consensus first-round NHL draft choice. This was why the Panthers took the winger with the 10th-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. And this was what Tippett, whose fiery orange hair peeked around the edges of his white helmet as he glided down the ice during a shootout drill Wednesday morning, wanted to do for as long as he could remember.

The 18-year-old Canadian can score. Various scouting reports agree on that, and the numbers back it up.

Playing for the Mississauga Steelheads in 2016-17, Tippett scored 44 goals in 60 games before entering the NHL Draft. The Panthers, who ranked 23rd in the league in goals per game last season, saw Tippett still on the board at the 10th pick and couldn’t pass on him.

That ability was what he was trying to show off in the shootout drill.

But his dreams of scoring goals and winning shootouts almost died when Tippett was 12. In a profile done by SportsNet, he explains, in limited detail, why he almost gave up hockey.

Now, however, he said he’s stronger for it, and he’s hoping to ride his experiences to a spot on Florida’s roster.

“It’s something that I battled through and kept my mind on the little dream I had,” he said. “It’s been tough, but it’s been my dream to play in the NHL. So I just kept that in mind and pushed through.”

The dream started when Tippett was an infant. He doesn’t remember exactly how or why, but he was enchanted by hockey games on the TV. He had no favorite team or favorite player, but if he had free time, you could find him on his couch watching games.

“Just loved the game for what it was,” he remembers.

But as a player, he was bullied from a young age in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario. His relationship with his father was also rocky, though he didn’t want to go into detail.

By the time he was 12, the bullying had affected his mental health, and he thought about quitting. His mom, Tracy, stopped him.

“You’ve had a dream in mind since you were a little kid,” she told him, “and you’ve come this far. Why turn back and quit now when you’re halfway there?”

Tippett realized she was right. He was already a top youth player, and six years later, he was drafted by the Panthers. He gave his mom credit for that.

“The support I’ve gotten from my mom over the years, and ever since I was a little kid,” Tippett said, “has been pretty much everything.”

But even though he was drafted, his dream still hasn’t quite been realized. First he has to make the NHL club rather than be sent to Florida’s minor league team, the Springfield Thunderbirds, for development.

At Wednesday’s development camp practice, he didn’t help himself by clanking his shootout attempt over the net and into the wall. But as he skated back to the bench and walked into the locker room, past an overhead sign reading “NO EXCUSES,” he showed no emotion about it. And after practice, he displayed the maturity brought on by the bullying and the confidence he’s cultivated so far in his young hockey career.

Unlike 12-year-old Tippett, there were no doubts this time.

“I am a big kid,” he said of making the team this season. “And I’m gonna keep working and developing my game until I’m at that National Hockey League Level.”

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