CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. - Owen Tippett doesn't know what's next.
At 18, the linear path that the dynamic goal scorer has followed throughout his junior hockey career is finally approaching a long-awaited fork in the road. To the left is another season of fine-tuning his game in the Ontario Hockey League. To the right, the bright lights of the National Hockey League await.
With uncertainty, however, also comes excitement.
"It's uncertainty and it's something that I can only work toward," Tippett said of his immediate future. "I don't really have control over anything. All I can do is kind of work my hardest and develop my game the best I can to try and make the National Hockey League, and it's something that I'm going to continue to work on as I have been working on it since I was a little kid."
Less than 72 hours after the Florida Panthers made him the 10th overall selection at the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago, Tippett was happy to be back on the ice and working towards his next goal, lacing up his skates and taking the ice for his first-ever development camp at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.
"This is something that I've always dreamed of since I was a little kid," Tippett said after his first on-ice session with the Panthers. "I'm just trying to develop my game to get to that next level. It's good to finally be here and get on the ice.
"I just want to be the person I am. I believe that's what got me here, so it's too late to change now. I just need to keep being the person I am on and off the ice to keep going."
A powerful, hard-skating winger armed with an NHL-caliber shot, Tippett turned plenty of heads this past season, scoring a team-leading 44 goals and adding 31 assists in 60 games for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads. With a unique blend of size, speed, and shooting ability, the 6-foot, 203-pound forward believes that his approach to the game best resembles that of Pittsburgh's Phil Kessel.
"I've heard a lot of different comparisons, but I personally feel I have the upside of Phil Kessel," said Tippett, a native of Peterborough, Ontario. "With the shot and the speed that he has, as well as the capability to make plays, to be compared to a back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, it's pretty special."
After finishing with the league's 23rd ranked offense in 2016-17, the Panthers are admittedly in need of some scoring help noting that Tippett's shoot-first mentality from the wing will serve as the perfect compliment to the team's already talented group of playmaking centers, such as Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck.
"What we needed in our depth chart was a sniper, a guy who can score, a pure scorer, a shooter because we have a lot of passers and playmakers," General Manager & President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. "I watched [Tippett] play all year. I watched him early in November, I watched him in the middle of the season, I watched him late, and he's got the ability to no-look and still shoot it and surprise goaltenders. That's something we haven't had for a while. We've got a lot of passers that'll get him the puck."
Could they be passing him the puck as early as this season?
As of right now, Tallon isn't ruling anything out.
"He's going to get every opportunity," Tallon said of Tippett. "I don't have any problem and [head coach Bob Boughner] and our coaching staff don't have any issues playing young guys. We're building a team that's going to be around for a long time and we'll give him every opportunity to play this year."
At the conclusion of development camp, Tallon, impressed by what he saw from Florida's prospects throughout the week, said that he expects at least one or two of the camp's forwards to be on the Panthers next season, listing several players such Henrik Haapala, Sebastian Repo, Maxim Mamin and, of course, Tippett as potential candidates.
Already a perfect fit on paper, Tippett isn't shying away from the challenge.
"I think that should be everyone's mindset," Tippett said. "It's something that if you work hard enough to get and hard enough for, the odds may be on your side. I'm just going to work as hard as I can and if that's the end result I'll be really happy."