CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The Florida Panthers opened their annual prospect camp on Tuesday morning, with 13 of the organization's top young talents hitting the ice at the Panthers IceDen to kick off two days of heated practices before training camp begins on Friday.
"Come Friday, it's going to be an exciting day," said defenseman Riley Stillman, a former fourth-round pick preparing for his first pro season. "You'll get back out there and it'll be sort of for real. I'm here. I'm here to try and take someone's job."
While there are no jobs won or lost at prospect camp, it does offer a handful of roster hopefuls a chance to get a leg up on the competition heading into the preseason. Like Stillman, other past draft picks like Jonathan Ang (96th overall, 2016) and Sebastian Repo (184th overall, 2017) will soon join the professional ranks and are likely to land with Florida's AHL affiliate in Springfield.
But for Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett, a place on the Panthers is potentially on the table.
The 23rd overall pick in the 2016 draft, Borgstrom starred for two seasons at the University of Denver before making his NHL debut with Florida at the end of last season. He notched one goal in four games and was primarily used as the team's third-line center. Having gained that experience, the 21-year-old is more confident than ever that he's ready for the big time.
"I feel like it helped a lot, just knowing how tough it is," Borgstrom said. "The compete-level and stuff like that, I feel like it helped a lot during my summer with working out and trying to prepare for it. I think I'm more ready now… I know the competition will be tough. It's a good challenge for all the young guys. I'm just getting excited right now."
At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Borgstrom has a frame fit for a place down the middle of an NHL lineup, but he's aware he'll need to continue packing on the pounds in order to fill it out. He's spent the majority of his summer training in his hometown of Helsinki, working out alongside fellow Finnish stars Esa Lindell (Dallas) and Teuvo Teravainen (Carolina).
"I worked a lot on my skating, the power in my legs," Borgstrom said. "I want to get stronger overall… I'm just getting better, I hope. I put on a little [weight], but I've gotten stronger. I think that's more important."
If Borgstrom does not make Florida's Opening Night roster, he's eligible to play in the AHL.
"I'm just looking forward to the main camp right now," Borgstrom said.
Like Borgstrom, Tippett, the 10th overall pick in 2017, is also looking to build off a brief showing in the NHL last season. After earning a roster spot out of last year's camp, the fiery right winger went on to score one goal in seven games with the Panthers before being sent back to his junior club in Mississauga to avoid burning a year off of his entry-level contract.
"It was a long summer of training," Tippett said. "I feel ready. It's good to be back down in Florida. Every time you come here you just gain experience on guys you're with or guys you're going to be around. Anything you can take from past experiences, you bring it into camp."
Upon his return to the OHL, Tippett posted another solid season with the Steelheads, scoring a team-high 36 goals and matching his previous career-high with 75 points. After his junior season ended, he registered a goal and an assist in five AHL games with Springfield.
With 12 total games of pro hockey under his belt, Tippett believes he's ready for the next step.
"I think you just kind of get a feel of what the coaches expect from you," Tippett said. "When I started here last year, it was a dream come true, being an 18-year-old kid. Obviously, that hunger is there for me and I want to be able to stick here full time. But now that I've experienced pro hockey at both the NHL and AHL level, I think I know what to expect more… I think [my approach] changed a little bit. In junior this year, I always had in the back of my mind of what I needed to do to get to that next level. I think it helped me."
At 19, Tippett is ineligible to compete in the AHL this season, so he'll either need to earn a spot with the Panthers out of training camp or risk being sent back to the OHL. But given that he's armed with an NHL-caliber shot and an NHL-ready frame (he stands 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds), Tippett, like Borgstrom, is eager to show the Panthers what he can do in the coming weeks.
"I want to go in and prove to them why I'm there," Tippett said.