After being utilized sparingly in his first NHL season before being sent back to the juniors in 2017, Owen Tippett is hitting his stride after establishing a role on the Florida Panthers over the past two seasons.
“I think it’s just kind of knowing how to play now,” Tippett said. “I think last year was a big year for me with confidence and everything, so I know what to expect and obviously just try to get build and get better every day and better every game.”
The final six games of the 2020-21 regular season — and a strong showing in the playoffs — were huge for Tippett’s confidence going into this season.
After starting 2021 with five goals and 12 points through the first 39 games he played, the 22-year-old had two goals and four assists for six points.
He spent most of those games being spent alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett on the second line.
“I think with confidence, the game slows down a little bit,” Tippett said. “In the first couple of games, you think you have less time than you actually do and I think as you get more comfortable and confident, you realize you have more time out there than you think.”
Tippett started this season on that second line with Huberdeau and Bennett and had a quietly great start to the season — scoring three goals and eight points in 13 games, including two different three-game point streaks.
“He’s a young player that’s getting better every game,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “Those two little stretches where he’s still growing, he’s still maturing., but his skill set and his tools are top-line, top-six material for sure.
“Just [want to see] a little more consistency out of him and I think what we’ve been seeing most is what we’ve been getting and when he’s going, he’s skating, he’s a lot to handle.”
With the lines being shuffled up over the last two games, Tippett has a new battery mate in Anton Lundell.
“He’s been great,” Tippett said of his rookie linemate. “In all situations, he’s handled it really well. I think it goes to show the skill he has and the way he plays the game. He’s got a [bright] future.”
The two young guns developed a lot of chemistry in the short time they’ve been playing together during the road trip.
Both players have such a knack for the game and getting the puck in the right positions, and although it hasn’t resulted in a goal yet, the line looks really good together.
“We just like to develop a little chemistry [between] two young players,” Brunette said. “Sometimes, you feel when you play with different players, you have to give them the puck and you gotta do some things.
“Those two young guys are playing off of each other real well. It’s all fluctuating, we’ll see what happens, but it was nice to see a little chemistry in the shifts they play.”
Both Tippett and Lundell are heavy forecheckers who can put a lot of pressure on the opposing defense.
With their tenacity and hockey IQ, it makes for a dangerous combination for all teams playing against the Panthers.
“It’s big,” Tippett said on his shared forechecking ability with Lundell. “We all can kind of be big on the forecheck and get in there and we’re all fast too. We have that speed and we can use it to our advantage.”
That physicality and forechecking abilities were especially put into practice in Saturday’s overtime loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Although he didn’t register a point in that game, it was his play on the forecheck with Victor Hedman, one of the league’s top defensemen, trailing him behind, that set up Eetu Luostarinen’s game-tying goal.
“Tippett’s a smart player,” Luostarinen said. “Obviously, we love to have a guy like that around.”