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A Bridge To Opportunity

by Andrew Piper / Florida Panthers
Matheson poses with the Panthers staff following being drafted 23rd overall at Consol Energy Center. (Getty Images)

It took 22 picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh before Michael Matheson heard his name called and knew exactly what city his future may lie in, but it only took a matter of minutes after that to realize things were happening sooner than expected.

Matheson went from being uncertain about what city he would end up in, to being welcomed into the Panthers’ suite in the Consol Energy Center with his family and invited to the Development Camp days later, which would include on and off-ice training to prepare Panther prospects for life in the NHL.

“Right away they said I would be coming down in a week, so there was no doubt that I wouldn’t come so it has been great to be able to have that opportunity to just go right away and not have to wait around at all to really get into the organization and see how they do things and learn as much as I can,” said Matheson during Development Camp.

With the details in place for a week-long trip to Florida for the Development Camp, it was up to Matheson to see how much could be gained from the experience and what would be the next step after a sudden whirlwind that included becoming an NHL first-round pick and a prospect for the Florida Panthers at just 18 years old.

A week-long trip to South Florida in the summertime is rarely spent inside and on an ice-hockey rink, but things are bound to be a little different for a first-round pick in the NHL Draft or for any NHL hopeful. Being a prospect for a professional sports organization is a big deal in itself, which is why the Panthers have such a camp in place for young prospects to benefit from.

“It is a really good learning experience to be able to play at a level like this,” said Matheson after Day 3 of on-ice practices, which included a scrimmage between two teams of prospects.

Even after a hectic game which included guys who had very little familiarity with one another, Matheson still took something away from it all and was just thankful to be out on the ice with a lot of good players. Matheson spent the camp with 33 other prospects from within the Florida Panthers organization, each of which took different routes to get there, but all have the common goal of improving and one day making the team.

“We’re all hoping to play here," said Matheson "So giving ourselves the opportunity to get to know each other so if that happens we can step in and already know each other that way and we will have played together.”

This one-week camp in South Florida is a major point that seems to serve as a link between the past and the future of Matheson’s hockey career. The days of dominating midget leagues has come to an end and ahead lies stiffer competition. With plans to continue training and working throughout the summer, Matheson isn’t going to depend just on camps to better himself. With the focus being putting on size and strength to compete with bigger, stronger guys at the college level, he will also ensure that his best asset, his quickness, doesn’t take a hit.

Matheson meets Director of Scouting Scott Luce after being drafted by the Panthers(Getty Images)

The next few months will see a lot of action for the 18-year old Matheson as he is set to enroll at Boston College in the Fall. Playing for a collegiate hockey program with a track record that includes five national championships and 14 first-round draft picks will almost effortlessly improve the game of Matheson, but his first season for the defending NCAA champ Eagles will show how much of an impact he can make and how great his potential is for a future career in the NHL. A program that has won three national titles in five years is a perfect environment for a college freshman to engulf himself in during a time when working on his game could result in a lasting career in the NHL.

As Matheson makes the jump to collegiate level hockey, points surely will not come as easy as they have in recent years, which he understands and is a challenge he looks forward to facing.

“I find in college all the teams have a lot of depth so it’ll be great to be playing against really good lines no matter who it’s against," said Matheson. “I think all the forwards in college are really intelligent with the puck and if you give them a second, they will be able to hurt you, so minimizing the time I give to any forwards is important.”

He is aware of what he needs to improve upon over the next few months to avoid having weaknesses exposed on the ice and is driven to avoid the seemingly eminent fate.

With the near future already set in Chestnut Hill at Boston College, Matheson knows that he won’t be trying to make the team this year, but that doesn’t mean the 2012 first-rounder won’t try to turn heads in the meantime so that when he is trying to make the team he will be near the top of Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon’s list.

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