CORAL SPRINGS — Typically, the average 18-year-old would look nervous on the ice in their first NHL training camp.
Not Gracyn Sawchyn.
The 5-foot-11, 157-pound forward was not afraid of drawing contact as the Panthers opened up camp last Thursday.
Even facing off with multiple players over 6-5 in a camp that is as physically demanding as any in the league, the 2023 second-round pick dove right into the fray.
And, he had a smile on his face the whole time.
“He is a gamer,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
“He’s not disrespectful, he’s just out there playing the game as hard as he can. He doesn’t seem overwhelmed. He just looks like he’s having a great time. He’s got a big smile on his face every time he is trying to catch his breath.”
Even after flying hard into the boards after the biggest hit he took from 6-5, 210-pound Niko Mikkola, Sawchyn popped up and jumped back into the fight.
He even threw a couple more hits himself for good measure.
“He has gotten his body in there and that’s great for someone that age and that size,” Sam Reinhart said.
“Obviously, he is going to continue to get bigger but the most important thing is that he is not shying away, he is initiating that contact. And that is going to help him learn, that is going to motivate him to continue working off the ice.”
After battling through contact and Maurice’s notoriously hard camp full of 1-on-1 battles and long laps, Sawchyn’s motivation is pretty clear.
“It’s pretty tough coming from a small guy,” Sawchyn said. “It’s an adjustment but it is something you have to get used to if you want to play at the next level.”
It was apparent to the coaching staff very early on that he wants to do so badly.
After Sawchyn dominated against peers his own age in Florida’s development camp and the Southeast Rookie Showcase in Estero, Maurice decided to reward him by running him with the veteran players during training camp.
“For a young guy who is not the biggest man on the ice yet, somehow, he is on the puck, he plays the game and he competes right through drills,” Maurice said.
“I would have thought he would have worn out after three days because of his age and he is not.”
Maurice meticulously chose Sawchyn’s linemates to help bring out the two equally noticeable parts of his game.
Reinhart is there to embrace the finesse in Sawchyn’s game while Ryan Lomberg is there to show him different ways he could mold his untapped game.
“Sam is a real smart, gritty guy but not necessarily the biggest guy in the league, and then Lomberg is there as a driver just so he can see both sides,” Maurice said.
“A guy who gets the puck deep and forechecks the heck out of it and another guy who will do it, but thinks his way through it.”
Sawchyn will get a chance to play in a full-game situation against NHL players for the first time when the Panthers open their preseason on Monday, but his skill set has been very apparent even in small scrimmages in camp.
His speed and playmaking ability were on display when he put up 40 assists and 58 points in 58 games with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds last season and it has only improved since he first took the ice in a Panthers sweater at development camp in July.
“His skill set is so smooth,’’ Reinhart said.
“We’ve had some game situation and obviously, he is going to continue to get bigger and stronger, but he is so smooth and smart with his body and where he puts the puck coming in on a defender. It’s been pretty fun to see.”
In a way, it is a similarity that draws close to Reinhart’s game, and as Sawchyn gets bigger and older, he can mold into the type of player Reinhart is.
The 6-2, 193-pound forward has that same tenacity and drive in the corners while possessing a high hockey IQ and playmaking ability which makes him a great bumper on Florida’s power play.
And those same hockey smarts Reinhart puts on display every day are another reason why Maurice wanted to pair the two together during training camp.
“Both of those guys have great personalities on them,” Maurice said of him and Lomberg.
“They will help the kid out, they will talk to the kid and they will give him a really good experience. It’s nearly impossible for a player to come out of junior hockey after being drafted and make an NHL roster, but for me, he is like six days into his Panthers debut in terms of rookie camp and here he’s done well.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
PRESEASON DOUBLEHEADER VS. NASHVILLE
- When: Monday, 2 and 6 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: $15 donation to charity, parking included
- TV/Radio: None
- Streaming: FloridaPanthers.com
LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE PANTHERS
- Wednesday: Preseason at Carolina, 7 p.m.
- Friday: Preseason vs. Carolina, 6 p.m.
- Sunday: Preseason vs. Ottawa at Sydney, Nova Scotia; 4 p.m.
- Oct. 3: Preseason vs. Tampa Bay at Orlando Arena, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 5: Preseason at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 7: Preseason vs. Tampa Bay, 6 p.m.
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild (BSF)
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (BSF)