Panthers' top pick to get first taste of NHL vs. Flyers

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Florida Panthers right wing Owen Tippett skates during warmups before the start of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 in Sunrise, Fla.

In splitting their first four games, the young Florida Panthers have yet to win a game on the road and have yet to score first. Attempting to change that, one solution that first-year coach Bob Boughner has come up with is to give highly touted 18-year-old forward Owen Tippett his first taste of an NHL game.

“Let’s face it,” Boughner, the former Sharks and Blue Jackets assistant who played 12 seasons in the NHL, said after the Panthers’ morning skate at the Well Fargo Center Tuesday. “We haven’t won on the road yet so anytime that happens, you’re looking for some change, you’re looking to spice the lineup up a little bit. I think he’s going to add that for us.’’

If that sounds like some heavy pressure on the 10th pick overall of last June’s draft, well you wouldn’t know it from Tippett’s words or body language. “I’m just concentrating on skating fast and in a straight line and not trying to be too fancy,’’ said Tippett. “Take it all in. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’’

Tippett is the beneficiary of an overhaul of the Panthers lines following their 4-3 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh Sunday. The Panthers have yet to get the first goal in their four games thus far and the first line that began their season – with Evgenii Dadonov centering Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau – is a combined minus-11.

So Dadonov skated on the second line with Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad. Tippett will skate on the third line with Jamie McGinn and Jared McCann.

“We talked about it for awhile,’’ said Boughner, who elected to keep him with the Panthers rather than send him back to his OHL club.
“I don’t want him sitting around. I want to get him in. Playing. Get him up to speed.’’

Asked what he might say to the youngster about playing his first game in a place well known for its lack of hospitality, Boughner — who spent five seasons in the minors before he got his shot — didn’t sound too sympathetic.

“It’s tough to say anything,’’ said the Panthers coach. “He has to deal with it like everybody has had to before him. But good players find a way to settle into games. He should be fresh. I’m looking forward to seeing some of his speed in there.’’

Notes: Although Boughner did not name a starting goalie, Robert Luongo was the first goaltender off the ice and is expected to get the start rather than James Reimer. Neither has been stellar thus far. In charge of the defense in San Jose, Boughner has emphasized a more aggressive approach than the Panthers employed last season, and the early results have reflected that. They are fifth in goals per game (four) and tied for 27th in goals allowed per game (3.75) after finishing 23rd and 20th, respectively, last season.