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NOTEBOOK: Panthers Prospects Look 'Hungry' on Day 1 of Rookie Camp

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

9/10/19 Rookie Camp: Day 1

9/10/19 Rookie Camp: Day 1

Interviews with Springfield Thunderbirds head coach Geordie Kinnear, Owen Tippett, Riley Stillman and Serron Noel

  • 02:10 •

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Looking out at the 25 prospects that had assembled at the Panthers IceDen on Tuesday morning for the start of rookie camp, Springfield Thunderbirds head coach Geordie Kinnear said he could the sense the hunger emanating from each player in attendance.

On the long road to a roster spot with the Florida Panthers, this is one of the first stops.

"It was a lot of fun out there," said Kinnear, who is entering his fourth season behind the bench of Florida's AHL affiliate. "Any time you can get out there with a group of hungry players, it's a great day for me. It was a great day to teach and try and instill some habits, some mentalities that [Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville] wants to get across. It was a great first day."

With only two days of practice before the roster balloons to 61 when training camp opens on Friday, Kinnear said that he hopes the organization's prospects will use this time to "start the process" and do their best to stand out before the battle for jobs really begins later this week.

Asked how a player could make their mark, Kinnear said he's "always looking for compete."

"It doesn't matter what drill you're doing, if I see a competitive person they're obviously going to stand out among the rest," said Kinnear, who previously coached several campers last season in Springfield. "That's what you want. You want ultra-competitive people. That's what I look for."

Given that most of these players haven't participated in competitive practices over the summer, it'd be normal if they showed a little bit of hesitation or rust in getting back to work. But from the moment they stepped onto the ice, Kinnear said players were already looking very, very sharp.

Overall, he said he was "very impressed with the execution" during drills.

"Usually the feet are going faster than the hands, or vice -versa," Kinnear said. "I thought they did a great job with [it]. Every day you want to get better. Today, for those young guys, I thought this was a great start. [Rookie camp] gives them a head start so they can go in and not tip-toe into training camp. They can go in and jump right into the pool. Rather than feeling how warm it is or how cold it is, they can jump right in. I thought it was a great first day."

The Panthers will close out rookie camp on Wednesday starting at 9:30 a.m.

All camp sessions at the Panthers IceDen are free and open to the public.

In the meantime, here's some players that jumped right into the deep end of the pool on Day 1.

TIPPETT TURNING PRO

This isn't Owen Tippett's first rodeo.

Entering the third training camp after being selected by the Panthers with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, the 20-year-old forward is eager to make the jump to the pros this season.

"It's a lot different," Tippett said of the feel of rookie camp. "Any time you go into your first year pro, you want to be ready to go. I'm going to work my hardest and let it take it all from there."

Tippett previously got a taste of life in the pros in 2017-18. After making Florida's roster out of training camp as an 18-year-old, he went on to register one goal in seven games before being returned to his junior club. At the end of that season, he also competed in five AHL contests.

Now 20, Tippett said that experience gave him a blueprint he's been working off ever since.

"I think I've gotten a lot bigger and stronger," he said when asked about his growth. "I think I've kind of worked on my game and gotten it to the way where I feel pretty good. I feel ready to go."

In his final junior season, Tippett recorded 33 goals and a career-high 41 assists in 54 regular-season games split between the Mississauga Steelheads and Saginaw Spirit. In the 2019 OHL playoffs, he notched 11 goals and a team-high 22 points to help the Spirit reach the semifinals.

Already armed with an NHL-caliber shot, he's been working on improving his 200-foot game.

"It's just habits," he said when asked about training without the puck. "Whether it's taking a few reps on D in practice when it's 1-on-1 or 2-on-1 or you're skating with guys, it's just getting into the habits of going to the net or being in positions where you know you're going to be in games."

Kinnear said the improvement Tippett has made to his all-around game was noticeable today.

"He's in great shape," he said. "He wants to get better. You can tell he's worked on his game."

ROUND 2 FOR RILEY

Like Tippett, Riley Stillman has also already gotten a taste of the NHL.

Turning pro prior to last season, the 21-year-old defenseman was called up to the Panthers for the first time on Feb. 26. He went on to make his NHL debut that same day in Arizona, dishing out a team-high five hits while seeing 11:22 of ice time in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Coyotes.

In his first tour of the pros, he tallied four goals and 13 assists in 59 games with AHL Springfield.

"It was big," Stillman said of his debut. "I had a little cup of coffee there. With that, I took a lot of things back to finish the year in the AHL and throughout the summer to bring into this year, sort of lessons that I learned and things that can help me improve as a player going into this year."

Stillman said one of the biggest lessons he learned came off the ice.

"It's about every day," he said. "It's about taking care of your body. It's everything from sleeping right to eating right and doing all the small things that end up being big things in the long run."

On the ice, some of the biggest strides Stillman made last season came on offense. A sound positional and defensive player in his own zone, he believed he needed to chip in more on the other end of the ice in order to gain the confidence he needed to become a two-way defender.

Oddly enough, he ended up finding that offensive fortitude as a forward.

Moving up from the blue line into the bottom-six for a few games, he scored the first goal of his professional career with Springfield on Jan. 5 in a matchup against the Providence Bruins. Two games later, he found the back of the net once again, this time against the Hershey Bears.

"It gave me some confidence with the puck," Stillman, a fourth-round pick of the Panthers in 2016, said of his brief stint on the wing. "I obviously scored and had a couple points up front, which was exciting for me. It gave me some confidence before I moved back to the backend."

After getting his feet wet last season, Stillman said wants to make a bigger splash in 2019-20.

"I've got a little bit more confidence coming into camp knowing that I'm here to compete for a job," he said. "It's nice to be back on the ice, see some familiar faces, get around the new coaching staff and stuff, sort of just get here the next couple days going into main camp."

SIZING UP SERRON

As former teammates in the OHL, Stillman has watched Serron Noel grow over the years.

"When I met him he was just a little 16-year-old kid. Now he's turned into a man and makes me look small out there," Stillman said of Noel, who towers over most of his teammates at 6-foot-5 and 211 pounds. "It's good to see him back. I'm glad to see the progression that he's having."

Participating in his second training camp after being selected by Florida in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft, Noel, now 19, stands out for numerous reasons other than his size. Despite having such a large build, the offensive upside he showed last season in juniors is nothing to scoff at.

Named the top forward on the Oshawa Generals in 2018-19, he set new career-highs in both goals (34) and assists (47). Helping guide his team on a deep run all the way to the semifinals of the OHL playoffs, he registered four goals and 11 points during a terrific postseason run.

"You get confidence every year," Noel said. "I felt stronger and better on the ice and more confident. I felt great this past year, and I thought it went really well for the team as well."

Prior to returning to his junior club, Noel laced up his skates in one preseason game with the Panthers in a doubleheader against the Nashville Predators during last year's training camp. This time around, he's hoping to stick around longer and potentially see much more ice time.

"That's exactly my mindset," he said. "I want to get as many games in and stay as long as I can."

If he does end up returning to the junior ranks this season, Noel's next goal would be carving out a spot for himself on Team Canada's roster for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"That would be unbelievable," he said. "If I get sent back and have the opportunity to represent Canada, it would be great. It's [the tournament] in the Czech Republic this year. I'd be really excited to go there."

As for Stillman, Noel thinks his good friend has a chance to challenge for a spot with Florida.

"Seeing the change from junior and the effort that he's put in, it's amazing," Noel said. "He's gotten so much better. I think he's got a real shot at making the team this year, for sure."

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