By David Dwork

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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – Florida’s top pick from June’s NHL Entry Draft is anxiously waiting for his number to be called.

Owen Tippett made the Panthers Opening Night roster but has yet to play his first NHL game.

While that might weigh heavily on the minds of most, Tippett is just focusing on what he can control.

“I haven’t really put too much thought into it,” he said. “I’m really just focused on the now and not really worrying about what’s in the past or what’s coming, I’m just working as hard as I can and working for a spot.”

Even without getting into a game, training and working at the NHL level is invaluable to the 18-year-old and he’s using it to his advantage.

“I feel like I’m a step ahead of when I got here even though I haven’t played in a game,” Tippett said. “Every day I come to the rink it’s a chance for me to get better.”

The coaching staff isn’t giving Tippett a lot of information as to when he may finally crack the lineup.

One thing they are doing is telling him everything he can do to prepare for when the time comes.

“They encourage you to step out of your comfort zone a little bit so after practice you kinda work on body positioning, puck positioning; its little things like that that go a long way when you’re in a game,” Tippett said.

At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds Tippett looks the part of an NHL-ready forward.

He stood out for the right reasons throughout training camp and the preseason, which is why he’s still with the team.

Panthers head coach Bob Boughner has been asked repeatedly by the media when Tippett will play.

With the team just two games into the season, Boughner has liked what he’s seen so far and isn’t ready to start moving players in and out of the lineup.

Still, it’s not a matter of if Tippett makes his debut, but when.

“I wanna get him in there as soon as possible,” Boughner said of the rookie. “I’ve gotta gauge how the team is playing and how each individual is playing, as we play pretty well as a unit. He’ll get his crack [at playing].”

In the meantime it seems that the Panthers are content with the work Tippett is getting at this level as opposed to going back to his junor team.

Aside from not playing in games, the attention to detail and amount of resources at this level are second-to-none.

“I still think he’s learning every day being in the NHL, with practices and video sessions and things like that,” Boughner said. “He’s still growing but I want to get him in there when I can.”

Tippett can play nine games in the NHL before the first year of his entry-level deal kicks in.

If he were to play in Florida’s next nine games, starting Saturday in Pittsburgh, that would keep him with the team for another three weeks.

By then, Boughner and his staff should have a clear idea whether it would be best for the Panthers to keep Tippett for the season or to wait a year.

For now the rookie is just waiting to do what all hockey playing children fantasize about; play a game in the NHL.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little kid, to play at the highest level,” Tippett said. “And now that I’m here, it’s an amazing experience and something I’ve worked for.”


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