CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - It was easy to spot Owen Tippett.
A seasoned veteran of summer camps at this point, the Florida Panthers 2017 first-round pick stood out among a sea of more than 40 prospects when he took the ice on the opening day of the organization's annual development camp on Thursday afternoon at the Panthers IceDen.
No, it wasn't the mop of fiery red hair creeping out from under his helmet or the incredibly robust wrist shots sent echoing throughout the practice facility that gave him away. This time around, it was something differently entirely, more of a new aura and an attitude than a tangible attribute.
On the heels of a career-best season in juniors and looking to finally make a full-time jump to the professional ranks, the 20-year-old is more determined than ever to turn some heads. "I'm here to absorb," said Tippett, who is attending his third development camp since being drafted 10th overall. "New coaches, new everyone. It's good to get to know everyone and kind of make that good impression. I think that's one of the notes that was passed along this time around is to just kind of gain as much knowledge as you can and make a good impression."
After making the Panthers roster out of training camp during his first post-draft season in 2017-18, Tippett went on to register one goal in seven games before being sent back to the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads for some extra seasoning and to avoid burning a year on his contract.
That year, he finished with 36 goals and 39 assists for 75 points, giving him a good boost of confidence heading into his second camp with Florida. Unfortunately, that momentum didn't result in a roster spot, as he was sent back to juniors once again after two preseason games.
The demotion stung, but Tippett took it in stride.
Upon his return to the OHL, he was given checklist of things the Panthers believed he needed to improve upon before he could carve out a regular spot in the NHL. They showed him clips of what he did right and wrong in the preseason, focusing mostly on his play away from the puck.
"I want to show what I'm capable of," Tippett said. "I want to show them that I've taken their notes that they had on me and kind of worked on that and proved to them that I worked on that."
Working to improve his all-around game, Tippett shined during the 2018-19 campaign, posting 33 goals and a career-high 41 assists in 54 regular-season games. Traded from Mississauga to Saginaw for a package that included six draft picks (a sign of growing value) on Jan. 5, he went on to help the Spirit reach the semifinals of the OHL playoffs, racking up a team-high 22 points.
At the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, he tallied two goals and two assists in five games, earning praise for play from various media outlets despite Team Canada failing to earn a medal.
"He played on their top line, played on their first power-play unit and played to his identity as a shooter," Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting Jason Bukala said of Tippett after the World Juniors wrapped in January. "He played hard."
Still, it wasn't necessarily Tippett's points that impressed the Panthers this past season.
"He's really bought into playing a more 200-foot game," Panthers Director of Player Personnel Bryan McCabe said of Tippett in November. "He's going through bodies, tracking through the neutral zone, doing the other things that are going to make him successful at this level."
Having played with Tippett over parts of two seasons in Mississauga, forward Cole Schwindt, who is attending his first camp with Florida after being taken in the third round (81st overall) in last weekend's draft, also complimented his former teammate's strong leadership skills.
"He's a huge role model for me," Schwindt said.
Given his experience, Tippett said he wants to bring that leadership to this week's camp.
"You see a lot of new faces every time you come, but this is one of the years where I can honestly say I don't know too many people," Tippett said. "Obviously, being an older guy, you've got to show them around and show them the ropes a little bit. They're all doing well."
Using this week as the first of three auditions he'll get with the Panthers this summer (rookie and training camps are still on the horizon), Tippett added that the club's offseason hiring of coach Joel Quenneville has fanned the already sizeable flames of his desire to make the team.
The second-winningest coach in NHL history and the man behind the bench during Chicago's Stanley Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015, Quenneville met with Tippett and other prospects on Wednesday and clearly left a very strong impression on the next generation of Panthers stars.
"You can tell his mindset toward the season is really high," Tippett said. "That energy feeds off not only to us, but guys that are going to be with him throughout the year. It's a big opportunity."
As the summer roles on, Tippett's fight for a roster spot will certainly be worth keeping an eye on.