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Taking Off: Freshly Signed, Schwindt Looking To Build Off Career Year

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

The news caught Cole Schwindt by surprise.

Quarantining with his family at home in Kitchener, Ontario, the 18-year-old forward received an unexpected call from his agent on Monday informing him that that discussions with the Florida Panthers had really begun to heat up and that a deal could be coming sooner rather than later.

By Wednesday, Schwindt had put pen to paper on a three-year, entry-level contract.

"It was unbelievable," Schwindt told FloridaPanthers.com in a recent telephone interview. "It kind of took me by surprise a little bit. I didn't think that anything was coming anytime soon. It was great. It's nice to get it out of the way, and now I can focus on getting better this summer."

Tweet from @C_Schwinny10: Honoured to sign my first NHL contract with the @FlaPanthers. Can���t thank everyone enough who has helped me along this journey. pic.twitter.com/hssBzLfI90

Looking at his numbers, the decision to sign Schwindt shouldn't come as a shock.

After being selected by the Panthers in the third round (81st overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft, he went on to post the best season of his career to date. Suiting up in 57 games with the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads, he paced the team with 71 points, including a career-high 28 goals.

When asked about his breakout campaign, Schwindt credited his scoring surge (his previous career-best point total was just 49) to what he described as a "whole bunch of things," including the play of his teammates, the teachings of his coaches and, of course, the support of his parents.

"I can't thank everybody enough," he said.

Spending a week at Florida's development camp this past summer also provided a boost.

"That gave me a little more encouragement," Schwindt said of the camp, which began less than a week after the draft in Vancouver. "Just getting a little taste of the speed and the pace that they play with up there was a big thing to take back to junior. It made all the difference for me."

Schwindt certainly took a step forward in his career this past season, but there was one month in particular that looked more like a giant leap. In December, he was named the OHL's "Player of the Month" after leading the league with 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 12 games.

Lighting up the scoresheet almost every single night during that unforgettable month, he tallied at least one point in 11 of those 12 contests, including a handful of three-point performances.

And, like most breaking news these days, he first found out about the honor on social media.

"That month kind of took me by surprise," Schwindt said. "I had no idea I was even in the running for the OHL's 'Player of the Month.' When I saw the tweet posted, I was kind of taken aback by it. I got a huge congratulations from the team. I told them that I owed it all to them."

Locking up the award, Schwindt, feeling reinvigorated after returning from the holiday break, ended the month by pocketing a pair of hat tricks over a three-game span from Dec. 28-31.

"I came back and felt great," he said. "I had a week refresher with the family, just spending time with my brothers. I came back and was just really refreshed. I came back ready to play."

Watch: Youtube Video

In winning the award, Schwindt said he was reminded that he still had a lot of untapped potential.

"I'd always keep it in the back of my mind that, 'Wow, it'd be pretty cool to get that,'" he said. "To get it, it definitely took a little weight off my shoulders and was definitely reassuring that I can put up those numbers and play with the best in the OHL."

Heading into next season, Schwindt, who will turn 19 on April 25, said he expects to return to the OHL for one final tour of duty with Mississauga. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 186 pounds, he said he hopes to bulk up a bit and keep improving on offense before eventually jumping to the pros.

Signing with the Panthers was a big rung on the ladder, but the climb is only just beginning.

"I think just focusing on me and all the detailed stuff," Schwindt said of his goals for 2020-21. "There's a ton of things that I can add to my game still. I'd say that I'm a pretty good two-way player, but maybe adding a little more offense and trying to hit the 100-point range is something that I'm looking forward to next year. Then, obviously, it's all about helping Mississauga win."

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