CHICAGO - Owen Tippett has never visited Florida.
That's about to change.
At the 2017 NHL Draft, the Florida Panthers used the 10th overall pick to select Tippett, a speedy skater and elite goal scorer from the Ontario Hockey League's Mississauga Steelheads.
"It's been a long time coming, but of course I've enjoyed [the draft process]," said Tippett, sporting a brand new Panthers adidas jersey. "It's something that you can only go through once. I'm just happy that I know where I am now. The anxiousness is gone. I'm excited to get to Florida and get things started."
When asked about his walk to the stage, Tippett confessed that he's already forgotten his first few steps as a member of the Panthers, the overwhelming excitement of the moment likely clouding his usually reliable memory.
Dale Tallon's words, however, were unforgettable.
"He said that he saw me a while ago and he knew I was his guy," Tippett said of his brief on-stage meeting with Florida's general manager. "To hear that from someone like him, there's no words to describe that."
A powerful winger armed with an NHL-caliber shot, Tippett was considered by numerous NHL experts and analysts to be one of the most lethal goal scorers heading into this year's draft. He's also an excellent skater with a good first step and top-end speed. He can beat you one-on-one when he has the puck or turn on the jets in order to separate himself from defenders when he's playing away from it.
"We had targeted [Tippett] for a while," Tallon Said. "We need it in our depth chart. He's a sniper, a guy that can score, a pure scorer, a shooter. We have a lot of passers and playmakers. I'm glad that we were able to get him. That was a really good situation for us."
When it comes to his shot, Tippett agrees with the experts.
"It's another thing that I've been working on ever since I was a little kid," the Peterborough, Ontario native said of his deadly shot. "It was something that I kind of took upon myself to work on individually.
"I just need to work more on working away from the puck, in the defensive zone and being more aware, and my stops and starts. [My overall skating] is right near the top. I've been working on it since I was a little kid to develop it. It's something that I feel confident in."
After notching just 15 goals and 20 points with Mississauga in 2015-16, the 18-year-old forward broke out in a big way this past season, scoring a team-leading 44 goals and adding 31 assists in 60 games for the Steelheads. The 6-foot, 203-pound native of Peterborough, Ontario also went on to add 19 points (10-9-19) in 20 playoff games.
"Ever since I went to Mississauga, they've been great with my development," Tippett said of his junior career thus far. "They just make you feel right at home. It's a great organization and they've been good for development."
With a powerful, quick release Tippett's shot can often be as deceptive as it is powerful, which can make the puck hard to track, giving opposing goaltenders nightmares.
In Florida, he'll have no shortage of centers looking to set him up.
With Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad all locked into long-term deals, Tippett believes he'll fit right in with the Panthers' current core of talented young forwards, serving as the perfect compliment to Florida's already strong group of skaters down the middle.
"I'm really excited," said Tippett, peering into his NHL future. "I've seen what the Panthers have done in the past couple years and the young talent they have. I'm excited to get to Florida, take it all in and see where it goes."
With plenty of family and friends in attendance, Tippett said he plans to savor tonight's special moment as long as he can, knowing that his celebration will most certainly be short-lived. For although he's taken a big step towards making his NHL dream a reality, the next big one is right around the corner.
The Panthers open their development camp on Tuesday.
"I've never been to Florida," Tippett said. "It'll be exciting to finally go there."