CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Serron Noel couldn't help but act a little starstruck.
After arriving to his first prospect camp with the Florida Panthers on Monday, the 18-year-old forward was stunned to learn he'd be sharing a locker with one of the team's top stars, former Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad. Meeting for the first time, Noel said he kept his cool as the two exchanged pleasantries, but inside all he could think was "oh my gosh, it's Aaron Ekblad."
"It's kind of blowing my mind seeing all these pro guys," a visibly excited and grinning Noel said after Wednesday's rookie practice at the Panthers IceDen. "Seeing these guys on TV and stuff, it's just such an awesome feeling to finally be here and be with them."
With training camp scheduled to open on Friday, Noel will have to get used to rubbing elbows with players of Ekblad's caliber. Soon, he'll be playing alongside skaters like superstar center Aleksander Barkov, who he notes has been one of his "favorite players since I was younger."
"I told him to watch the Barkovs, the [Vincent] Trochecks, the [Colton] Sceviours, those guys," McCabe said. "I want him to see how they prepare, their habits, how they work in practice. He can take a lot home from this week and the next couple weeks that he can take back to juniors so that moving forward he can be better off down the road."
While fellow prospects Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom have their sights set on a spot with the Panthers, Noel isn't looking that far ahead just yet. With a 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame, the Ottawa, Ontario native has the size teams covet in a power forward, but knows he needs a little bit more seasoning before he's ready to play under the bright lights of BB&T Center.
After posting 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) during his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League, Noel really broke out this past season with the Oshawa Generals, notching 53 points (28 goals, 25 assists) in 62 games while sharing the ice with fellow Panthers prospect Riley Stillman, who is turning pro this season and will likely land a spot on AHL affiliate Springfield.
"For him, it's just to work as hard as you can," Stillman said of Noel. "He's a good kid. He's very smart. He keeps his mouth shut like I did. He speaks when he needs to. You like that. I'm just telling him to work as hard as he can and try to earn a spot."
When you hear Noel talk about Barkov, who turned 23 on Sept. 2, it really hits you just how young he is. He was just 17 when Florida selected him with the 34th overall pick in June's NHL Draft and only turned 18 on Aug. 8, making him by far the youngest player at training camp.
But given his raw talent, Noel will tell you that his age simply means he has more time develop.
"I'm going to get better every day, every time I hit the ice," Noel said. "I'm going to start off good, but every time I hit the ice I'm going to improve and learn some things, take some things from the older guys and just get better."