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Borgstrom Learning Plenty During 1st Tour Around NHL

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

For Henrik Borgstrom, every game offers a new lesson and every road trip a new experience.

In the midst of the longest road trip of his very young career -- a five-game trek spent largely in Western Canada -- the 21-year-old rookie is weathering the ups and downs of the NHL like any budding star would. There are good games and bad games, with highs balanced out by lows.

And through the first 14 games of this season, many of his statistics reflect that learning curve.

At 5-on-5 play so far this season, the former-first round pick has been on the ice for eight goals scored and eight against, while also finishing as a positive possession player in exactly half the games he's competed in. That said, he rarely has consecutive negative possession games.

But despite posting four goals and two assists, Borgstrom's said his biggest focus has been on defense, an area of his game he spent fine-tuning at the beginning of the season with Florida's AHL affiliate down in Springfield after not making the Panthers initial roster out of training camp.

"I feel I'm way more reliable defensively," Borgstrom recently told FloridaPanthers.com. "I think my positioning is way better. I'm very hungry with my stick all the time. Of course there's little things I can improve on, for sure. But the defensive side of the game is in my opinion the biggest part. I don't get knocked around or knocked down as easy as I did last year."

While in the minors, Borgstrom, who's listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, said he packed on a bit more size and became more accustomed to going up against grown men - something he didn't get to see much of during his successful stint at the University of Denver in two seasons prior.

In 24 games with the Thunderbirds, he tallied five goals and 17 assists, earning himself a spot in the 2019 All-Star Classic - an invitation he had to politely decline due to his NHL obligations.

And since his recall on Dec. 15, Borgstrom's progress has not gone unnoticed by teammates. 

Video: MTL@FLA: Borgstrom buries feed from Hoffman

"He's been great so far," said Panthers winger Troy Brouwer, a veteran of 806 NHL games. "I thought he had an opportunity to make the team right out of camp, but it wasn't to be. When you're young like that it's easy to be discouraged when you go down to minors.

"That obviously wasn't the case for him. He was named to the [AHL] All-Star team and has been producing here and doing a lot of good things for us. He's a guy that this franchise is going to lean on for a lot of years. It's good to see him have success early."

A consistent contributor on offense, Borgstrom has yet to go more than three games without at least picking up at least point this season. But with a nickname like "The Artist," I assume that's almost to be expected given the reputation for offensive theatrics that followed him to the NHL.

So, if you ask him, Borgstrom will tell you that his main focus at the moment is in the faceoff circle, where the Helsinki, Finland native currently owns a respectable 45.9 percent success rate on the season - the seventh-best mark among 2018-19 rookies with at least 150 draws.

"I'm trying to be really good in the faceoff circle," Borgstrom said. "I started off pretty well, but then I had three games where I was not that good. Now, the last game was better again. That's something you need to take pride in when you're a center. That's what I'm trying to do."

In the absence of injured second-line center Vincent Trocheck, Panthers head coach Bob Boughner has been impressed with Borgstrom's ability to step up and fill those big shoes as both a goal scorer and in the faceoff dot, deploying him in the middle-six for an average of 15:12 per game.

At this point, Boughner said conversations with Borgstrom tend to revolve around consistency.

"When he came up he was real good early," Boughner said. "I think like all young guys, they struggle to be consistent. We've talked to him about that, and he knows that. He's really digging in and trying to be heavier in the faceoff circle. You can see in the last couple games that he's done a better job of that."

Boughner said he believes one of Borgstrom's best games of the season came during Florida's 4-3 shootout loss in Edmonton on Thursday. Against the Oilers, he not only scored a pivotal go-ahead goal late in the game, but also won 63.6 percent of his draws and dominated possession.

Video: FLA@EDM: Borgstrom scores off defender in 3rd

When Borgstrom was on the ice in Edmonton, Florida out-attempted the Oilers 13-3 at 5-on-5.

"Self admittedly, I think he'd say [the game in Edmonton] was the best game he's had probably in the last week and half," Boughner said. "He's going to get a lot of opportunities. He's done a real good job. You can see he's going to be a real good player for us."

As for enjoying his first tour around the NHL, Borgstrom simply wishes he had more time.

But with a bright future ahead of him, it's safe to say these road trips are the first of many.

"It's cool to see all these different rinks, but there's not that much time to explore these cities," said Borgstrom, who rooms with fellow Finnish rookie Juho Lammikko. "Of course when you have half days you try to do something, but even then it's not much. It's been fun so far."

*All advanced statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

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