When Owen Tippett first arrived at the Florida Panthers' development camp last summer, he had plenty of room to develop.
"He had a little baby fat on him," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "He was still a kid."
Fast forward 12 months and the Panthers' 2017 first-round draft pick doesn't feel like a kid anymore. He has had a year to grow and got a taste of the professional hockey experience when he played in seven games for the Panthers early in the season and another five for Florida's AHL affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He wants to make it back to the NHL level — sooner rather than later.
“Obviously it’s a goal of mine to crack the lineup this year," Tippett, 19, said. "And obviously I want to stick this year.”
He has the best chance out of the 33 prospects taking part in the Panthers' four-day development camp in Coral Springs. Most prospects take three to four years to matriculate to the NHL level. The top players from the draft can make it after a year or two at a lower level if the timing is right.
Tippett, a right-handed winger, plans to be on that short list of players.
He has stood out among his peers over two days at the Panthers' IceDen. Coaches have used Tippett as an example on several occasions to lead off drills, showing the younger players how to properly execute the specific assignment. He has shown his prowess with the puck in his control, weaving and bobbing past defenders.
He's confident, too. That's key, Tallon said.
"He's starting to turn into a man and develop into a man," Tallon said. "That takes time. I expect him to come to camp and fight for a job. He's a great shooter. No one can shoot the puck better than this kid. He loves to shoot it, and we've got a lot of playmakers who can give it to him. We're going to give him every opportunity to make our team."
As for the rest of the group, the 2018 draft class — highlighted by top picks Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel and Logan Hutsko — leads the way. Two top prospects in 2016 first-round pick Henrik Borgrstrom and 2017 second-round pick Aleksi Heponiemi are both training in Finalnd.
The goal of the four days, Tallon said, is not necessarily to carve out roster spots, but to get a glimpse at what the franchise has for the future.
"It's a week of indoctrination," he said. "We're not trying to beat them up or anything. We're just trying to get to know them and teach them the tricks of the trade."
Geordie Kinnear, the head coach of the Panthers' AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds and lead instructor for the development camp, added: "It's more to start the process of teaching those guys how to be pros and to learn how to play. It's great to get them early and then follow up with them in training camp."
Free agency plans
With two acquisitions already in the books, don't expect the Panthers to make a splash move when free agency begins on Sunday.
The Panthers have already trading for high-scoring forward Mike Hoffman, signed Russian defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich and made qualifying offers to five restricted free agents: defensemen Alexander Petrovic and MacKenzie Weegar, and forwards Jared McCann, Frank Vatrano and Curtis Valk.
"We’re gonna listen to everyone and look at everyone. We’re not gonna overpay for someone,” Tallon said. “We don’t have a lot of room, but obviously, we’d like to add a few things. ... We’ll wait and see what the cost is. Usually, July 1st, it’s very expensive, but we’ll be very patient the rest of the summer and we’ll add some pieces if we deem it necessary.”