When it’s time for the NHL Draft, you’ll see people compare unproven prospects to very-much-proven stars. As usual as those comparisons can be as shorthand, they can often come across as comical.
It’s a lot more fun when the prospect makes the comparison for you.
In discussing his chances of making the immediate jump from being the 10th pick of this past draft by the Florida Panthers, Owen Tippett evoked the name Phil Kessel, as Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported about a week ago.
“I have the upside of Phil Kessel—the speed, the shot, the way he can make plays. I also have some things I need to work on to be a 200-foot player,” Tippett said.
Ah, the 200-foot player talk. That might stand as the most interesting part of Fox’s piece, as it seems like a lot of effort was made to explain why a player would want to emulate Kessel, a prolific scorer and repeat Stanley Cup champion.
“Phil Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Guy’s scoring 30-plus goals a year. Pretty good guy to want to play like,” Trainer Mike Nichol said. “People are quick to look at the fitness issue. Well, I’ve had Phil Kessel here in this gym. He’s unbelievably strong. For a hockey player, he’s world-class strong. Super powerful guy.”
It’s a “laser beam” shot that first links Tippett and Kessel, as observers believe that the would-be Panthers rookie can really pick the corners.
If nothing else, this is a reminder of another remarkable thing about Kessel: how quickly he became an NHL contributor. Kessel went from being the fifth pick of the 2006 NHL Draft to playing in the 2006-07 season, scoring 11 goals and 29 points in 70 games. He almost scored 20 goals the next season and then generated 36 goals and 60 points in 2008-09.
(He also survived testicular cancer in 2006.)
Can Tippett really manage that jump, even a more modest version of it? Well, the Panthers seem like they’re opening the door wide open for Tippett to do so. As a reminder, Panthers GM Dale Tallon said back in July:
“He’s going to get every opportunity,” Tallon said. “I don’t have any problem and [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.”
So, it sounds like Tippett will get his chance to reach that Kessel potential next season.