MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — After a brief taste of NHL life, Owen Tippett has a new appreciation for the work required to be successful at the next level.
On Sunday evening, with many of his teammates long gone after the Mississauga Steelheads dropped a 4-2 decision to the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Florida Panthers prospect was putting himself through a post-game workout.
"They’re coming to the rink ready to work, it’s their job," Tippett said of his Panthers teammates. "You just want to be able to learn and understand that.
"They’ve obviously been pros for a while and just want to see what it’ll take and what I should be doing to be playing at that pro level."
Over the first six weeks of the NHL season, Tippett appeared in seven games with the Panthers. He made his debut on Oct. 17 in Philadelphia and scored his first goal in a win against Anaheim on Oct. 26.
The 18-year-old also watched six games as a healthy scratch to get a better understanding of the systems implemented by rookie head coach Bob Boughner.
On Nov. 6 the Panthers decided to return the Peterborough, Ont., native back to his OHL club to further his development. Tippett admitted the 10-game threshold before his NHL entry-level deal kicked-in was a distraction at times while in Florida.
"I just knew the deadline was the nine games sort of thing, we were just going off of that," he said. "I didn’t really see it coming, I might’ve had an idea, obviously it’s in the back of your mind with that nine games, but it was just something that kind of happened.
"It is (tough). Even when you’re there, you’re like, ‘Oh, am I in, am I not?’ Just being a young guy, you just go day-by-day and work as hard as you can."
Aside from his first NHL goal — a tap-in past Ducks goaltender John Gibson on a feed from Jamie McGinn — Tippett said the thing he’ll remember most about his first NHL stint was the opponents he faced.
"I mean Pittsburgh, you see what they’ve done the last couple of years," he said. "Tampa, they’re doing well this year. My first game in Philly was special, you just kind of see different moments."
The six-foot-two, 204-pound forward returns to the OHL with the goal of improving his defensive game.
Tippett registered 44 goals in 60 games with the Steelheads last season, good for fifth in OHL scoring. His precise shot and offensive instincts are what drew the Panthers to use the 10th selection to draft Tippett last June. But as he looks to take the next step in his hockey career, his play in his own end needs work.
"(The Panthers) said basically from the red line in (to the offensive zone) I’m OK. Defensively they just want to see me complete my game," Tippett said. "Just kind of switch to not being so offensively minded. Obviously you don’t always get the step on a guy so you might shoot earlier or leave (the zone) a little bit early – you want to step back and take care of business in your end first."
Tippett has registered an assist in two games since his return to the Steelheads.
On top of working on his defensive game, one of Tippett’s objectives for the season is to be a part of Team Canada at next month’s world junior hockey championship in Buffalo, N.Y. He’s already worn the Canadian colours at under-17 and under-18 tournaments and is hoping that experience will help land him a roster spot on the under-20 team.
"Anytime you get to be in the camp, the Hockey Canada experience, it’s pretty special," he said. "You want to take advantage of it every time and learn as much as you can and just see what they’re looking for in the group so when you go back next time, you know how to act.
"It’s obviously a goal of mine. It’s been something you watch ever since you were a little kid, it’s a (goal) to play in that tournament over Christmas. It’s getting closer (and) I’m getting more excited."