The Curious Case of Owen Tippett

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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Panthers vs Rangers postgame thoughts: finally healthy and it shows

Panthers vs Rangers
Photo credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

When the NHL season paused over a week ago, few teams needed that break more than the Panthers. Between injuries and a COVID breakout, the team played a lineup consisting mostly of AHL regulars. The subsequent three game skid had some fans begging for a pause or postponement of games.

The fans got their wish, and after almost two weeks off, the Panthers resumed their season Wednesday against the Rangers. The Panthers vs Rangers game gave Cats fans a reminder of what they were missing, and how much fun this season has been.

Panthers vs Rangers game recap

Even with their full team playing for the first time in almost a month, the Panthers faced as difficult of a challenge as their is in this league. The Rangers have been one of the best teams in the league all season, and their speed presented problems for the Cats in their last meeting on November 8.

The first period looked like more of the same. Artemi Panarin beat Bobrovsky five-hole after a beautiful deke on Aaron Ekblad. Whether it was strong defense or rust, the Panthers struggled to generate chances early on, and the first period ended with the Panthers trailing 1-0.

In the second period, Anton Lundell tied the game after Ryan Lomberg used his speed to create a chance. The Rangers responded shortly after with Panarin making a great defensive play to set up Mika Zibanejad for the goal. The Panthers finished that period with only seven shots on goal. A concerningly low total for a team trailing, and going into the third, it seemed like the Ranger Defense had their number.

In the third period, the Panthers began to play their brand of hockey. Three unanswered goals and overall dominance sealed it for the Cats. Weegar’s first goal of the season tied it up. Verhaghe’s snipe took the lead. Duclair’s great defense resulted in a much needed insurance marker.

That period showed what the team is capable of even against the best teams in the league. When the playoffs begin, the team will need to play that way for the full 60 minutes. For now, the team should enjoy being healthy and showing out against a great Rangers team

Panthers vs Rangers Takeaways

  • While this game was far from perfect for the Cats, this game showed that this team has the talent to beat anyone. If the team can maintain health, they can overcome most of their shortcomings through offensive firepower.
  • Special teams remains an issue for the Cats. The power play failed to generate much of anything in their two tries, while the Rangers generated lots of great looks. I still maintain hope that they can figure it out, but the later in the season it gets the more concerning it is.
  • Two preseason regulars were healthy scratches today: Frank Vatrano and Owen Tippett. Both have talent beyond a doubt, but have not delivered this year. Based on today, the team looks better with them on the outs. Look for them to be trade bait at the deadline.
  • Bobrovsky let in a soft one early on, but looked sharp the rest of the game, making key saves in the third period. That rough patch he had may have just been fatigue. His minutes should be managed until the playoffs begin.

Looking Ahead

The Panthers play against their rivals from the north on Thursday, as the Lightning come to town. That game will be must see TV and a great test for the Cats as the season ramps up again.

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Florida Panthers Injury Bug: Potentially Beneficial

Florida panthers injury
Credit: Sun Sentinel

The injury bug has officially hit the Florida Panthers.

Despite losing five lineup regulars to injury, have maintained the best record in the NHL through 24 games. The past three games in particular have been an absolute masterclass in effort, poise and discipline. In all three games, the panthers faced a serious uphill battle. It never rattled them. The 4-1 deficits they faced in two of those games would have broken most other teams.

Not this group, this group likes the challenge.

Three games in a row they trailed for the majority of the game, and all three still ended with two points. What could have been a brutal stretch for a team missing its best player has turned into an indictment of anyone who doubted them. The fans have even revitalized the “comeback cats” nickname because of the recent games.

This recent stretch has elevated the Panthers into a different echelon of hockey team. Changes the coaching staff has been forced to make (due to the injuries the Florida Panthers have had) have unlocked a cavalcade of new dynamic weapons. If the roster can regain its health, these new team developments will be the key to cup contention going forward.

Reinhart and Huberdeau: A Match Made in Heaven

When Aleksander Barkov went down with injury, Head Coach Andrew Brunette chose to pull out an old trick. He reunited Anthony Duclair with Johnathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett. When Anthony Duclair went down, Coach Bruno had to think of something new. He decided to place newcomer Sam Reinhart on the top line with the Bennett-Huberdeau pairing.

Right now, that move looks to be a stroke of genius. In the past three games, Huberdeau has nine points (1G, 8A) while Reinhart has six points (3G, 3A.) They have arguably been the biggest contributors to the comeback cats over the most recent stretch. Even when the puck stays out of the net, that line controls play and does not let their opponents generate shots.

Reinhart snipes the game winning goal on a pass from Johnathan Huberdeau (via @JamesonCoop on twitter)

Reinhart has struggled at times this year, as has the Bennett-Huberdeau line depending on who is paired with them. This change seems to be a solution for both. When Barkov and Duclair return, the Panthers have the ability to have two of the most productive lines in hockey. If it comes to fruition, they will have an offensive advantage no matter the matchup.

Lucas Carlsson — The Missing Piece on Defense

Coming into the season, most fans and analysts agreed that the biggest hole on this Panthers team was on the blue line. Injuries placed additional strain on the defense, as regulars Markus Nutivaara and Gustav Forsling have both been out of the lineup. Several replacements have been placed in the lineup, but only one has stood out positively: Lucas Carlsson.

Carlsson, the former fourth round pick for the Chicago Blackhawks, was not considered one of the top defensive prospects in the organization. Most would have considered Matt Keirsted or Chase Priskie to be more NHL ready than Carlsson. When the opportunity arose, however, it has been Carlsson who has impressed. In his last two games, Carlsson registered four points (1G, 3A) all while driving play at a very high level.

Lucas Carlson blasts home a shot (via @FlaPanthers) on twitter

Carlsson’s booming slap shot and willingness to join the offense has created numerous scoring chances for the cats. His instincts and nose for the puck have been matched by his smarts of the defensive end. Carlsson has played like an NHL veteran this season despite playing less than 30 NHL games. If he can maintain this level of play the rest of the season, the Panthers may have enough quality defensemen to solve their blue line woes.

Not The Depth You Expected

In October, the names most commonly mentioned when discussing the forward depth of the Florida Panthers were guys like Frank Vatrano, Owen Tippett, and Patric Hornqvist. Those guys have all had their moments, but I would argue they have not been the game changers in the bottom six the way others have. Namely, two of the biggest catalysts behind the comeback cats of late have been Ryan Lomberg and Eetu Loustarinen. Together, the pair have been textbook at turning defense into offense.

The game against the Washington capitals on Tuesday perfectly exemplifies what they bring. Down 4-1, Ryan Lomberg buried a rebound and Eetu Loustarinen scored on a shorthanded breakaway to bring the cats within one. The Panthers ended up winning that game, and they can thank the two of them for igniting the comeback.

Lomberg and Loustarinen play their roles perfectly, and it allows the Panthers to always generate scoring opportunities even when their best players are on the bench. Having a fourth line that can generate consistent offense from unsung heroes will give opposing teams fits for the rest of the year.

Eetu Loustarinen Scores shorthanded on a great feed from Lomberg (via @JamesonCoop on twitter)

Coming Up

The Panthers begin a three game west coast trip on Tuesday with a rematch against the Blues. hopefully they will have some players returning from injury by then. If not, be prepared for the comeback cats to pull off another one.

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Florida Panthers make a statement win in their first game without Barkov

Panthers Barkov
Photo Credit: Florida Panthers PR

The Florida Panthers began an arduous journey Thursday night without their captain and on ice leader Aleksander Barkov for the next few weeks. Barkov injured his knee on Tuesday night after a collision with Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield.

Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette described Barkov’s status as “week-to-week.” In hockey coach speak, that translates to a reasonable timetable of about 4-6 weeks. Certainly not season ending, but the team will feel his absence. Over the course of the next month or so, the Panthers will need to prove they can still be a dominant team without Barkov.

Thursday night proved they can do just that. Playing a Devils team that gave them fits earlier this year, the Panthers played one of their best games of the season. The cats got off to a slow start defensively, but took complete control of the game after the first period. In the end, the Panthers cruised to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Let’s dive into how the Panthers managed to make up for losing Barkov, and how they can repeat this going forward.

Sam Bennett as 1C

Without Barkov, Andrew Brunette opted to reunite the “9-1-1” line as the teams top forward group. For the uninitiated, the so called line consists of Sam Bennett centering Johnathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair. Last season, that line proved to be one of the most dominant in the NHL. The trio spoke on their chemistry after the game.

“We were pumped when we got back together.” Duclair said, “We found a little chemistry when Benny got traded here, and saw a bit of that tonight. We want to build off that.”

Tonight, the they recorded two goals together, one from Huberdeau and one from Duclair. The line will need to be the hub of the offense for as long as Barkov sits if the team wants to maintain their first place position.

Spencer Knight bounces back

The last we saw of Spencer Knight was against these very Devils. In what can be considered the low point of his career thus far, Knight let in seven goals in a rout on November 9th. Tonight, Knight flipped the script. He saved 45 of 46 shots, a performance any goalie would be proud of.

In his postgame interview, Knight reflected on his poor performance and against the Devils, saying “If things go well all the time, you’re not going to learn much.” Knight certainly seemed to learn a ton from his last poor performance. Without Barkov, Knight will need even more performances like these, as goals will likely be harder to come by. Both him and Bobrovsky will have less leeway over the next few weeks.

Fourth line flourishing

Most NHL fourth lines are considered “energy lines.” Mostly, these lines play good defense and light a fire under the rest of the team to generate some chances. Very rarely in the NHL do fourth lines consistently provide offense themselves. So far, the Panthers have been the exception. The fourth line of Eetu Luostarinen, Ryan Lomberg, and Patric Hornqvist have scored in three straight games.

For a group with such little ice time to be so productive has been a blessing for the team. Together, they have found a chemistry several top lines would envy. Head Coach Andrew Brunette said after the game, “”I think they’re doing the right things, they’ve got a nice combination.” Making up for Barkov’s lost production will be a group effort, and thus far the fourth line has done their part.

Looking ahead

The Panthers next play at home against the Minnesota wild on Saturday at 6 PM. This will be a great test for the club, as the Wild are currently first in the central division. It will surely be must see TV.

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Panthers vs Capitals: Win provides hope for post-Quenneville era

SUNRISE, FL – OCTOBER 9: Florida Panthers Head coach Joel Quenneville looks on during third period action against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the FLA Live Arena on October 9, 2021 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The Panthers returned to action on Thursday night following a five day hiatus from play. This extended break came on the heels of one of the most physically and mentally exhausting weeks in team history. A week which saw a head coach fired and replaced, as well as three games in four nights.

Without delving into the whirlwind of that week, suffice it to say the Panthers went into their abbreviated BYE week with a few more questions than before.

Thursday’s win against the Capitals helped answer many of those questions. The Panthers defended home ice with a 5-4 overtime victory. That final score may not jump off the page, nor should it. In this case, statistics will not tell the whole story. What fans should take away from this game is the composure this team exuded when they were met with adversity.

The OT winning goal for the Panthers

This game could have slipped away from the cats several times over. It could have slipped away when Sergei Bobrovsky left the game with an upper body injury. The game could have slipped away when Spencer Knight let in a breakaway goal one minute into the second period. It could have even slipped away when the Capitals scored three unanswered goals to tie the game. The Panthers, however, refused to let that happen.

A staple of the Quenville era of Panthers history has been their composure. During his first season as coach, the team earned the “Comeback Cats” nickname for their numerous late rallies. Over the past three years, that resilience in the face of adversity has only grown stronger. Whether it be playing from behind or holding off late rallies, this iteration of the Panthers never seem to get rattled.

Following Quenville’s dismissal from the team, it would be fair to wonder if the Panthers still had that composure in them. After all, having a veteran, Stanley Cup winning coach would give any team that confidence.

Last night showed their fans and the rest of the league these are not the same old Panthers. The Washington Captials, led by a scorching hot Alex Ovechkin, currently sit at third in the Metropolitan division and have a 0.700 points percentage. They have been dangerous all year and could have easily stolen this game from a less prepared team.

Despite playing with their backup goalie for the majority of the game, despite missing two starting defensemen, (Nutivaara and Gudas missed the game due to injury) and despite having to deal with Ovi’s blistering shooting all game, the cats pulled it out. Interim coach Andrew Brunette deserves immense credit for instilling the team with the same calmness as his predecessor.

This game was not perfect by any means, but the team showed the league they will still have a built in edge over any team they play. The Cats will need to build off this game if they want to make a deep playoff run. For now, Brunette and the rest of the staff showed they are more than capable of getting it done.

Other Quick notes from the Panthers game

  • For now, it is clear Sergei Bobrovsky is the number 1 goaltender. Spencer Knight is a serviceable backup for now but certainly needs more time to grow into the clear cut starter we know he can be. Hopefully the Bob injury is not too serious
  • The defense did not look very sharp tonight in front of Knight. This can be just that they were missing two starters, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
  • While they did blow the lead rather quickly, getting a 4-1 lead was pretty impressive and seemed almost easy. Keeping that offense going while improving the defense will be paramount going forward.
  • The Power Play is looking better and better by the game. Credit to the coaching staff for continuing to try new things
  • Congratulations to Chase Priskie for making his NHL debut tonight. Hopefully the first of many for the Broward native.

Looking Ahead

The Panthers will play the Hurricanes on Saturday night at 6 P.M. in sunrise. This will be a matchup of the two best teams in the league. Absolutely must see TV for any fan of hockey.

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