The Curious Case of Owen Tippett

While Owen Tippett has struggled this season, his skill and potential means he can turn it around

Owen Tippett with the Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Owen Tippett, Florida Panthers Oct. 17, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During this stellar panthers season, very few players would be considered disappointments by most. One player this cannot be said for is Owen Tippett. The fourth year winger was poised to have a top 6 spot secured for the Panthers, but has failed to capture a permanent spot in the lineup thus far.

The former lottery pick was expected to be a big part of this team’s season. His recent play, however, has warranted the healthy scratches he has been receiving. Without a doubt the talent is there, but the production has not been. Poor puck luck has factored into his underwhelming season, but he has also not been himself. Let’s dive into how we got here with Owen Tippett.

How we got here

The Florida Panthers selected Owen Tippett 10th overall in the 2017 NHL draft. Most draft experts agreed that Tippett had the best goal scoring skills of any prospect in the draft. Coming out of juniors, his game had holes –particularly defensively– but little doubt existed as to whether or not he would be an NHL caliber player.

Tippett impressed during his first training camp with the Panthers. So much so that he made the opening night roster, an exceedingly rare feat for a teenager. During his seven games in the NHL in the 2017-2018 season, Tippett only scored a single goal, but his confidence and swagger on the offensive end were evident.

Tippett drove offensive play so impressively that many began thinking that the Panthers got a steal at pick number ten. The Panthers sent Tippett back to juniors after his seven game stint in the show, but most believed his game would be complete enough to be an NHL regular by next season.

Unfortunately for all involved, progression is not always linear

Tippett failed to make the NHL roster in either the 2018-19 or 2019-20 seasons. While he had some impressive stints in the minor and junior leagues, he could never get over the hump into the NHL. Tippett finally became a regular NHLer during the shortened 2020-21 season. It was then when the flashes became more apparent. In the final six games of the regular season, Tippett tallied six points (2g, 4a) and continued that production into the playoffs with four points (2g 2a) in six games.

So Where are we now

Playing on a line with Sam Bennett and Johnathan Huberdeau seemed to have unlocked Tippett’s offensive upside. With an offseason to grow, the Panthers expected big things from Tippett going into this season.

Before the season, Sam Bennett said about Tippett: “When he starts to realize how good he is, he’s going to be even better. I love playing with him, he brings so much to the table. He’s a player that’s going to have a really good year.”

Before the season, I suggested that Tippett was the odd man out of this forward group, and noted that Duclair would be the better linemate for Bennett and Huberdeau. Now at the beginning of this year I was more than ready to eat my words on that one, but as the season progressed and the lines shifted, so did the bigger picture.

Tippett began the season paired with Huberdeau and Bennett as expected, the line put up decent production but nothing earth shattering. Tippett himself put up eight points (3g 5a) in 13 games. When injuries and losing streaks necessitated changes, however, concern for Tippett’s production grew.

When replaced with Reinhart, that line generates an expected goals percentage of 63.1%, compared to 52.1% with Tippett. Replacing Tippett with Duclair gives that line a 57.8% expected goals percentage (Not to mention the insane chemistry between Huberdeau and Duclair that could win Huberdeau a hart trophy, but that is a story for another day.)

Tippett, now playing mostly on a third line centered by Anton Lundell, has managed just one assist in his last sixteen games. His offensive swagger has been nonexistent, and his play driving relies heavily on others.

To his credit, Tippett’s defense has improved dramatically, and he has played reliably in the defensive and neutral zones. What’s missing is his fearless, gutsy, always looking for the goal attitude he was drafted for. Surely that player still exists, but it has been some time since Tippett showed it.

What’s next for Owen Tippett

Has the Panther’s organization stunted his growth by not letting him be himself? Possibly. Could a change of scenery be good for Tippett? Probably. Is this marriage between play and organization unsalvageable? Absolutely not.

Fortunately for Owen Tippett, the team does not need him to live up to his potential right now. Plenty of other offense exists around him while he figures out how to get his killer mentality back.

Of course, if the Panthers are truly committed to bringing back that version of Owen Tippett, it will take some deliberate coaching. Brunette will have to pair him with a pass first playmaker and get him lots of time in the offensive zone (with Lundell he gets mostly defensive zone starts.) It will also mean consistent playing time, which has not been the case recently.

The Panthers could also opt to trade him, but his trade value is likely much lower than the Panthers view it as. As of this moment, a trade (persumably for a defenseman) would not help the team as much as many think.

Regardless, a change would help all parties involved. Tippett is only 22 years old and has all the talent in the world. The coaching staff and the front office must decide if they prefer to work to reenergize the winger, or look for a new home for him. His talent is too big to be wasted.

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