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Panthers’ young forwards look to take or solidify spots

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Cats depth creating quite a battle for roster spots

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to forward depth, the Florida Panthers are in a very comfortable spot heading into the 2018-19 season. After spending the offseason by adding the missing link in their top six (Mike Hoffman), and inking a formidable bottom-six grinder in Troy Brouwer, which negated the loss of Jamie McGinn, and by resigning guys like Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano, Dale Tallon and Co. can now err on the side of caution regarding their top young scoring talent. That is of course, if there is any caution in existence.

As we complete training camp and head into what proves to be a very competitive preseason slate, we take a hard hitting look at which kittens have the best chance at gaining their growl on Opening Night 2018.

Owen Tippett - RW

2017-18: Mississauga (OHL) - 51 GP, 36 G, 39 A, 75 P, 30 PIM

After making the Panthers out of camp on a tryout basis, Tippett played in seven games with the Cats before being returned to Mississauga. In those seven games, Tippett only garnered 11 minutes and seven seconds worth of total ice time per game, the equivalent of a fourth liner. Accordingly, he also played with subpar linemates. However, he was still able to pot his first NHL goal before being sent back to the OHL.

Upon his return to the Steelheads, Tippett spent the rest of his year recording just as many points (75) in nine less games played compared to the 2016-17 campaign. When the OHL season ended, Tippett broke into the AHL, recording two points in five games with the Springfield Thunderbirds.

According to Tippett, his time spent with Panthers at the beginning of the year and his tenure with the Thunderbirds at the completion of it has made him feel more at home at camp this year and led to a better relationship with the Florida affiliated coaching staffs.

“It benefits a lot,” Tippet said. “I mean, obviously, just for me too, to talk to [the coaches], I feel like I can go up to them more. I mean, I’m not as shy as I was last year, maybe. But no, it feels good to have that one-on-one face time with them.”

So far this summer, Tippett, who showed up at camp with 15 pounds of added muscle mass, has clearly been feeding off his newfound comfortability with both his coaches and his peers. After appearing much more nimble on his skates in practices and drills, Tippett was *the* standout in Sunday’s scrimmage game, jumping on loose pucks, challenging fellow forwards with his better-conditioned 6’1”, 200 pound frame and getting pucks on net via his trademark rocket shot. He could also be seen sliding pucks across the crease to his linemates’ blades.

A natural shoot-first pure scorer who also owns the hockey IQ and ice vision to get the puck to the open man from anywhere on the sheet with hands and dangles to match, has a big future with the Panthers, so much so that some of his fellow competitors for a roster spot and not-so-distant future teammates are taking notice.

Despite playing in just five games with the Thunderbirds in the AHL, Tippett looks primed and ready to forego his final season playing against his 20-year-old-and-under peers in favor of re-joining the Panthers at the highest level of development as part of the team’s third line, along with projected mates Jared McCann (center) and Frank Vatrano (left wing).

Henrik Borgstrom - C/RW

2017-18 (NCAA) - 40 GP, 23 G, 29 A, 52 P, 18 PIM

Kurt Henrik Michael Borgstrom, a key contributor to the Denver Pioneers during their NCAA championship run in 2016-17 (37-22-21–43), was drafted 23rd overall by the Panthers that same season. Borgstorm, the first winger off the board, was thought to be a humongous steal by the Panthers in that spot.

Over the past two years, Borgstrom has made that assumption a fact. After pacing Denver in points during his sophomore season last year (40-23-29–52), a year in which he brought the Pioneers back to the NCAA regional finals and was ultimately named a finalist for the coveted Hobey Baker award, Borgstrom took his talents to Sunrise. There he skated as a right wing for the first time. On his opposite side was Frank Vatrano and in the middle was a checking line forward, Jamie McGinn. The highlight of Borgstrom’s young Panthers’ tenure thus far came during the first period of team’s final game of the season against the Boston Bruins. Then, Borgstrom flashed his genius hockey IQ, nose for loose pucks and knack for hitting an open shooting lane all within 1.3 seconds as he jumped on a turnover forced by a forechecking Vatrano and quickly sniped it home via his smooth wrists for his first NHL goal. It came against one of the best netminders in the NHL and fellow Finn, Tuuka Rask.

“He’s learned being a center, being low and slow and not blowing the zone,” McCabe said of Borgstrom prior to training camp. “He’s a guy that wants the puck and can do a lot of special things with it. He’s not too far off. I think he’s got to get a little stronger, upper-body wise.”

After returning home to his native Finland during the offseason where he spent time strengthening his core and working on his for-speed skating, Borgstrom returned to South Florida two weeks ahead of Panthers’ rookie camp. During that time, he roomed with his teammate and potential fellow linemate Aleksander Barkov and the pair of Finns worked out regularly at Palm Beach Skate Zone. According to Borgstrom, he couldn’t ask for a better mentor and role model.

During Sunday’s scrimmage game, Borgstrom may have played a bit of a backseat to his linemate Tippett (no, we didn’t travel through time; that line actually happened), missing a few positional assignments in his first full-speed action of the season, but he traded it for two pretty shootout goals.

A perfect combination of size, hands, smarts and creativity, he has flashed each and every one of these qualities during Cats camp. Now Borgstrom just needs to put it all together. In the words of Dale Tallon, number 95 will get “every opportunity” to do so this next week during the preseason schedule. During Monday’s doubleheader, Borgstrom will likely skate in the late game with some of the Panthers’ top tier talents. Given Borgstrom’s resume as a complete playmaker who is capable of producing puck plays that have earned him the nickname “The Artist”, the 20-year-old is more than capable of putting the spotlight solely on himself, making it impossible for the Panthers’ coaching staff to deny him anything less than the 3C spot.

Starting tonight, watch and listen closely to each and every one of number 95’s shifts. Given Borgstrom’s pedigree, his admirable positive attitude and his incredible dedication and work ethic in perfecting his canvas, Borgy is a prime candidate to produce “wow” moments that stitch him into the Panthers’ 2018-19 Opening Night landscape.

Denis Malgin - C/W

2017-18 (NHL) - 51 GP, 11 G, 11 A, 22 P, 6 PIM

Malgin was the Panthers’ 2015 fourth-rounder out of Switzerland where he enjoyed a decorated juniors career. After recording two 50+ point seasons in U15 play, Malgin dumped 36 points on his competition in his first 25 games on U17 action. In 2012-13, a 16-year-old Malgin was invited to play for Switzerland’s U16 International junior team. In just nine games, Malgin posted a ridiculous 21 points and played himself onto both the U17 and U18 squads. He was one of the youngest players on both of those teams. All in all, Malgin totaled 28 points in 20 games, third most in International Junior League play. Four of those tallies came on the grand stage of the U18 World Junior Championship.

After beginning his pro hockey career in Switzerland in 2013-14, Malgin posted 61 points in 130 games through the 2015-16 season. He also made trips back to International Junior tournaments each year, posting point lines of 18-6-10–16, 16-7-9–16, and 10-3-8–11 respectively. Another career highlight for Malgin during that span was being named captain of the U18 squad in 2014-15.

Following his selection by the Panthers, Malgin got his first taste of North American hockey at training camp in 2016–17. The smaller ice and quicker pace of play agreed with Malgin’s speed-first skill set allowing him to make a much smoother transition to stateside hockey than most of his fellow Europeans. After impressing Gerard Gallant, Dale Tallon and Co. with his skating ability and knack to find the empty areas on the ice and after injuries to Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau, Malgin played his way on to the Panthers’ opening night roster. In his first 17 games, Malgin tallied eight points and played into his ELC (on the night he scored his first NHL goal), ensuring him the opportunity for success at the NHL level.

“Every time he’s on the ice he’s getting dangerous,” Gallant said at the time. “He looks real comfortable on the power play. You’re happy to see when a kid like that steps up into your lineup and does what he’s doing.”

After November 20, the return of Nick Bjugstad unfortunately relegated Malgin to a fly-on-the-wall role as he exclusively skated fourth line minutes (or less). That February, the activation of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov from IR pushed Malgin to AHL Springfield. Though disappointing, this wasn’t the worst thing in the world for Malgin. In Springfield, he was once again fed quality minutes which he made the most of in terms of both furthering his education and solidifying his status as a prospect.

Last season, Malgin proved what he can accomplish at the NHL level when he skates solid minutes with even more solid linemates. Alongside the likes of Vincent Trocheck, Malgin went from a 10-point man to a 22-point man. He also made developmental leaps, getting his body — all 5’9” of it — involved in his game, becoming a pesky forechecker and becoming even harder to knock off the puck, all while maintaining the ability to skate circles around league average competition. Watching Malgin last year, I likened him to a mini Jonathan Marchessault.

A guy who has spurned naysayers who said he didn’t have the size to succeed as an NHLer by succeeding at every level he’s played at starting as a teenage to the point where he dominated rookie camp and made an NHL club despite not having touched North American ice all the way up to the present in which he is rounding out his game and blossoming in to a potential 40 point threat, Malgin is still just 21. He is flying (literally and figuratively) under the radar because of names like Borgstrom and Tippett but he is still very capable of a very bright future. We could easily get behind the idea and potential of a 72/95/62 third line.

Maxim Mamin - C/RW

2017–18 (AHL) - 32 GP, 9 G, 16 A, 25 P, 25 PIM

A sixth round draft pick by the Panthers in 2016, prior to which he was awarded the KHL’s top rookie award in 2014-15, Mamin participated in his first Panthers training camp in 2016-17. Somewhere during that process of benefiting from professional colleagues and coaches, Mamin became a much more complete asset. A seemingly pure enforcer who tallied 57 PIMs in 48 games in ‘15-16, Mamin returned to Russia and with a better understanding of using his size to his advantage and tallied a career high 25 points in 42 games for CSKA Moskva.

Last season, Mamin returned to Panthers camp and earned this projection from CBS4’s David Dwork:

“A sixth round pick from 2016, Mamin is a tough forward that uses his size to his advantage. How well he adjusts to playing pro hockey in North America will be the true test for Mamin during training camp and wherever he ends up this season, but Florida’s need for wingers provides a solid opportunity to step up and win a job with the big club.”

Despite a solid camp, Mamin, based on reservations regarding his ability to immediately adapt to the NHL ice straight out of Russia, headed to Springfield to begin his North American hockey career. Thirty-two games later, Mamin, a 25-point man, kicked the Panthers’ door down and forced himself onto the roster. On January 1st, 2018, Mamin received a wonderful New Years gift, getting recalled by the Panthers and realizing his NHL dream. Mamin made his NHL debut on January 7th. In 26 games with Florida, he recorded three goals, one assist, a +2 rating and 7 PIMs.

Already touted for his size before this season, Mamin showed up at Cats camp this year in even better shape.

A winger who forgoes nasty dangles in favor of using his body, winning puck battles (though he could stand to improve a bit in board battles), forechecking, prolonging possessions, getting pucks towards the net and flashing a decent shot, Mamin made as good a transition to North American hockey as can possibly be made. So much like coach Boughner himself in size and style of play, the 23-year-old brings a good mix of skill, physicality and grit to the bottom six. With more skillful linemates than the ones he played with in Florida last year, he could post respectable point totals while also seeing time on the PK.

A guy that is tough to gauge unless he is going full speed, we will get a better sense of where Mamin is this preseason, but so far in camp, I put him behind Tippett, Borgstrom and Malgin as the odd man out come Opening Night.