CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – As he made his way into the dressing room at the Panthers IceDen, eagerly awaiting the start of his first development camp, defenseman Riley Stillman
couldn’t help but be overcome with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
A fourth-round pick (144th overall) in last month’s draft, Stillman’s father, Cory, recorded 109 points (39-70—109) in 165 games for the Panthers from 2008-11.
"I literally didn't feel old on this job until he walked through the draft room," joked Panthers Director of Player Development Bryan McCabe, a teammate of Cory Stillman’s from 2009-11 in Florida. "I was like, all right it's over. I remember him around the locker room playing stickball.”
Now 18, Stillman is coming off a very successful rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League in which he scored 21 points (6-15—21) in 62 games for the Oshawa Generals. He’s admittedly not the same type of player his father was, but that’s just fine with him. For although he appreciates the Panthers memories already associated with his surname, the Peterborough, Ontario, native is ready to carve his own, unique path to the NHL.
"It's a unique situation and nice to have a kid here that actually played in the area, came through the grassroots here and is now drafted,” McCabe said. “Hopefully he will be a Florida Panther some day.”
Following his first development camp practice, Stillman sat down with FloridaPanthers.com’s Jameson Olive to discuss everything from his South Florida homecoming to what it’s like growing up with a famous father.
OLIVE: This is really the first opportunity we’ve had to talk to you since last month’s draft. What was going through your head when you realized that the Panthers had picked you?
STILLMAN: It’s a surreal thing. It’s cool. I’m happy to come down here, to someplace warm. The things that the organization has done over the past few years have been great. They’ve made serious gains and I think it’s a great place to come.
OLIVE: A lot of fans down here are already very familiar with your last name thanks to your father, Cory. What does it mean for you to follow in his footsteps and attempt to expand on that legacy with the Panthers?
STILLMAN: It means a lot. I lived here for a little bit and played for the Jr. Panthers. It’s something that I was really excited about at the beginning and something that I take pride in to keep my dad’s legacy here.
OLIVE: What was it like stepping onto the ice for the first time wearing a Panthers jersey?
STILLMAN: It seems weird. Looking back, I remember watching all of the Panthers players that were at development camp or at mini camp, and now it just seems funny that I’m here now. It just doesn’t seem real.
OLIVE: How old were you when your father was suiting up for the Panthers?
STILLMAN: Around 10-13 years old.
OLIVE: Do you remember running around this locker room and causing some trouble?
STILLMAN: Oh yeah [laughs]. I used to always run around this locker room, the one at the BB&T Center and the smaller one before they built this one. It was kind of like a closet over there, but it was good. There also used to be an old gym upstairs I would run around in. So, yeah, I was running around a lot.
OLIVE: Have you spotted any familiar faces yet?
STILLMAN: The only guy that was here when my dad played is Bryan McCabe, who is now the director of player development. There’s no one in the management or in the training staff that was here, so it’s good to come on my own and be sort of my own person here.
OLIVE: Given your history together, do you think McCabe might work you a little bit harder than the other guys this week?
STILLMAN: He was giving me a little bit of a hard time [laughs]. But no, it’s good. I’ve known him since I was 10 years old, so it was funny to see him out there, especially working with me.
OLIVE: What was it like growing up with a dad who played in the NHL?
STILLMAN: It was tough at times, when he was away. When he went on a western road trip he’d be gone for a week or so, but it’s not different than any other kid having their parent gone for a while on business or something like that. But it did make the summer special. We had the summers all to ourselves. It was just me and my family up at the cottage.
OLIVE: How much did your father work with you to improve your game while growing up?
STILLMAN: He was everything. He was my coach, my strength coach, my dad, my best friend. He’s been everything in my life. He taught me everything - how to shoot, how to pass. We had ice when I was little at 6 a.m. before school. We’d be on the ice in Peterborough twice a week. Skills-wise, he’s done a lot – changing my shot, changing my stride. But everything has worked out for the best.
OLIVE: What advice did he give you heading into your first NHL development camp?
STILLMAN: Just come, work hard, keep my mouth shut and don’t be whining or anything. He told me to just keep my mouth shut and work.
OLIVE: Your father played forward, but you ended up becoming a defenseman. How did that come about?
STILLMAN: The Brick Tournament in Edmonton. I was supposed to play forward, but one of the guys didn’t want to play defense. He was crying, so they were like, “Riley, do you want to play defense? You can quarterback the power play.” I was like, “Sure, I’ll quarterback the power play and play defense.” I had a lot of fun with it and I’ve loved it ever since.
OLIVE: At what point did you decide you wanted to become a professional hockey player like your father?
STILLMAN: From the beginning; that was one of the big things when it came to choosing school. The reason why I chose the junior route was because it came down to the fact that all I wanted to do was play hockey. If I have to go to school after, if say things don’t work out, I can use my school package from the OHL. It came down to I just wanted to play hockey, and that was from a young age.