When Florida Panthers prospect Ty Smilanic found out he was going to represent the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championship, he couldn’t help but be excited.
“It’s pretty exciting, always an honor to wear those jerseys,” Smilanic told Florida Hockey Now.
“We were at camp and (John) Vanbiesbrouck let us all know this is our team, this is who’s going to Canada. We were all pretty excited and soon after, I texted my parents to let them know and we’re beyond excited.”
He’s one of six Panthers prospects to be named to a World Juniors roster, including Team USA teammate Mackie Samoskevich.
“The Panthers are picking correctly, I guess you can say,” Smilanic said.
Smilanic, a 2020 third-round draft pick of the Panthers, is looking to fit whatever role Team USA gives him and make a name for himself on the international stage.
“I understand going into this tournament, I might not necessarily be on the power play, might not get as much ice time as usual, but at the end of the day, you get to represent your country on a stage like this,” Smilanic said.
“Whatever opportunity I’m given, I’m gonna try to make the most of it and try and make a name for myself and try to help this team win gold.”
The 19-year-old has already started making a name for himself in his second season at Quinnipiac University.
The Denver native leads the No. 2 ranked Quinnipiac Bobcats in goals, with eight goals and 13 points in 18 games on the season, as the team looks to make the stretch run to compete for the national championship.
“I’m just trying to finish the year strong,” Smilanic said. “I’m using this tournament to maybe build some confidence, so when I get back to Quinnipiac, I can help the team win, and usually that happens when I’m scoring goals. We honestly have a good enough team to go all the way to the Frozen Four and that’s definitely a good feeling.”
The Bobcats have been a dominant team on both sides of the ice, outscoring opponents 61-20, and a lot of it has to do with Smilanic’s development in the defensive zone.
“I think that’s something I’ve improved the most this year compared to last year or even years past because I’ve never been known for my defensive abilities and I don’t think I’ll ever be,” Smilanic said.
The 6-1, 174-pound center has added that element to his game this season. He is reliable in all zones for the Bobcats, using his size to win those defensive zone battles and make plays with his stick while being able to finish in the offensive zone.
With the Panthers already having a wealth of defensively-minded centers in the system, including the likes of Sasha Barkov and Anton Lundell, Smilanic looks to continue the trend.
“To be a complete 200-foot player and be reliable in all zones, that’s what I need to be to hopefully be a Florida Panther one day,” Smilanic said. “I’m just trying to become the best all-around player I can be.”