The 2016-17 season has not yet begun and we’re already talking about the 2017 NHL Draft crop. But it’s well worth it, as one top prospect — and perhaps the most realistic threat to early favorite Nolan Patrick going first overall — has already kicked-off his draft year.
Peterborough, Ontario native Owen Tippett is an alternate captain for the U18 Canadian team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament this summer, having already scored two points in their four games. A well-known goal-scorer in junior hockey, Tippett aims to lead his team offensively in their pursuit of a Canadian gold medal victory.
But it didn’t always come so easily for the pure sniper.
Dan Sullivan, Tippett’s coach during his Toronto Red Wings (minor midget) tenure, told the media last year that the talented forward once struggled with confidence issues that held him back from reaching his true potential as a hockey player. He became a defenseman for the team, a role that greatly scaled back the pressure to produce offensively, until he sorted out whatever insecurities were plaguing him on the ice.
He got that all sorted out just in time for his major junior draft year, when he put up 87 points (including 52 goals) in just 50 games while wearing the ‘C’ for his minor midget team. The talented forward was immediately predicted to be a top-four prospect, and the experts were right — that’s exactly where he went on the draft board at the 2015 OHL Priority Selection Draft.
The rebuilding Mississauga Steelheads took him at that spot, more than happy that the potential franchise forward fell to them. And just a few months later, they acquired the player who had been selected a spot before him by the Flint Firebirds — Mississauga native Ryan McLeod.
The duo played a small role on the transitioning team in 2015-16, each scoring just 20 points for the Steelheads in their rookie campaigns. But 15 of those points were goals for Tippett, and he did it in far less time than McLeod did — just 48 games.
The right winger proved that he wasn’t just a minor hockey standout, but rather that he was able to take his incredible offensive talent to the next level, especially in the goal-scoring department.
“One of my strong points has always been my shooting,” Tippett told Hockey Canada. “I was always told to shoot the puck, put everything on net, and good things will come.
“It comes naturally. I used to practice in my driveway when I was younger, but not a whole lot. I don’t put weights on my stick or anything like that. If there’s anyone who can give me pointers along the way, I’ll listen to them.”
Tippett also scored five goals in six games en route to a gold medal win at the U17 World Hockey Championship last season, a feat that did not go unnoticed by scouts of all kinds. One such scout, Ryan Jankowski, Hockey Canada director of player personnel, was very impressed with Tippett’s goal-scoring ability and has chosen the young forward to represent Canada on the internatonal stage several times.
He even compares him to one of the NHL’s best goal-scorers right now, and raves about his overall excellence as a hockey player:
“Owen definitely has a lot of Stamkos’ attributes,” Jankowski said. “When he scores goals they look alike; driving down the wing and shooting the puck. I could see how he would want to be compared to him, and it doesn’t surprise me.
“I think there’s even another step he can reach when he does actually start focusing and working specifically on his shot. It’ll make him even more dangerous.”
For a kid who is already looking pretty dangerous as a 16- and 17-year-old sniper in his rookie OHL season, scouts are already clamoring to know what he will be like in the NHL a few years down the line. In the meantime, he will spend the 2016-17 season vying for a top-line roster spot with the stacked Mississauga Steelheads, looking to climb in the 2017 draft rankings.