On March 19, Owen Tippett left his hotel room, hopped in his rental car, and set out for Bojangles Coliseum to watch the Charlotte Checkers’ home game against the Providence Bruins.
Just five days prior, the 23-year-old was the AHL’s player of the week after posting eight points (four goals, four assists) in four games. But for the second time in three days, Tippett was a healthy scratch.
Such is life leading up to the NHL trade deadline.
As his name circulated among trade rumors, Tippett, the 10th overall pick by the Florida Panthers in 2017, managed the uncertainty by trying to stay focused in practice. Those rumors became reality on that drive to the arena when his agent called to inform him that he had been traded to the Flyers alongside a future first-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick for Claude Giroux.
»READ MORE: Owen Tippett, young Flyers showing signs of progress
“You get into a routine of you know what you’re doing each and every day,” Tippett said. “When something mixes up, it can be stressful. But I think it’s just one of those things, you have to have an open mind and you can’t close any ideas off, or else it can spiral really fast. I think I didn’t really take it [in] a bad way or good way. I just kind of went with the flow. And when it did happen, I was excited. ”
When Tippett arrived at the rink, he grabbed his equipment and said his goodbyes in the locker room before heading back to the hotel, packing his suitcases, and catching a flight to Philadelphia.
His apartment in Florida, where he started the season with the Panthers, sits half-full with the rest of his belongings. In the offseason, Tippett will pack everything up and move to the Philadelphia area for good. But as he embarks upon the latest chapter in his hockey career, his open mind is coming with him.
“I think I gathered it when I was younger,” Tippett said. “You can control the things you can control, but when stuff comes your way that you can’t control, you just have to adapt and adjust to live with or without it.”
Tippett is close in age to his older sister Joscelin, 25, and even closer in bond and in personality type – “Both quiet and reserved when you first get to know us,” Joscelin said. “But then as we become more comfortable, we’re definitely open and friendly.”
Before starting seventh grade, Tippett and his mother, Tracy, moved from their hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, so he could attend Toronto-area Premier Elite Athletes’ Collegiate (PEAC), a now-shuttered sports-focused private school that counted Connor McDavid as an alumnus. The decision split the siblings up, as Joscelin stayed behind.
“It was hard,” Joscelin said. “You grow up with a sibling in the house, and then they’re not there. So you definitely miss them. But it brought us closer in the times that we did get to see each other. ”
But Tippett had a familiar face at PEAC in his cousin, Detroit Red Wings forward Mitchell Stephens, who was two grades ahead and would become Tippett’s roommate for the next year and a half.
Tippett played AAA minor hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League for the Toronto Red Wings. That’s where he first came on New Jersey Devils forward Michael McLeod’s radar.
McLeod was a year older, but Tippett played up a year against him and his younger brother, and current Edmonton Oilers forward, Ryan. While playing for the Red Wings’ U16 team at 14 years old, Tippett led the team with 21 points in 31 games.
“He’s always had this really good shot, really heavy and quick release,” McLeod said. “And he’s fast, too. So he knows how to get open and get his shots off. And a lot of times when he shot the puck, it went in. ”
McLeod was selected fifth overall by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2014 Ontario Hockey League draft. The following year, Mississauga selected Tippett with the fourth overall pick.
In his first year with the Steelheads, Tippett finished with 15 goals and five assists in 48 games. James Richmond, now the Steelheads’ head coach and general manager, was an assistant during Tippett’s first year.
“He’s kind of a shy guy,” Richmond said. “So sometimes that comes across as being full of himself because he’s such a talented athlete. And too many times, in all sports, if you run into a quiet athlete, that guy’s full of himself. Well, he’s just just a shy person. … So that’s why I think he was misunderstood. Because he was so much better on the ice than everybody. ”
The following season, his draft year, Tippett exploded for 44 goals and 75 points in 60 games. His 44 goals ranked fifth in the league and were a franchise record.
“In junior, he looked to me like he had the potential to be a 30-goal guy in the NHL,” Daily Faceoff analyst Chris Peters said. “His shot and the precision of his skill, the speed, the strength. You’re just kind of projecting that out, like, wow, this guy keeps going this way, he’s gonna have a real chance. ”
The Panthers saw that goal-scoring potential, too, and took him 10th overall in the 2017 draft. At 18 years old, Tippett made the team’s opening-night roster and played seven games, making his NHL debut on Oct. 17, 2017, against the Flyers.
But after those seven games, in which he registered a goal, he was minus-six and averaged roughly 11 minutes a night, Tippett was sent back to the Steelheads.
“Coming straight from junior and not having that step in between, it kind of teaches you really fast where you need to be and what you need to bring into your game to be able to stick at that next level,” Tippett said. “And I think with me, it took a little bit to get there.”
»READ MORE: We’re really excited about his potential ‘: Flyers winger Bobby Brink set to make NHL debut on Tuesday
Back in junior, Tippett sought to improve his 200-foot game. He returned to the Steelheads’ lineup on Nov. 10, 2017, notching an assist in a 4-2 win over the Saginaw Spirit.
“That first game, he was leaps and bounds ahead of everybody on the ice,” former Steelheads and Checkers teammate Cole Schwindt said. “And it was awesome to watch. He is just a very, very unbelievable player, and getting to watch him and getting to take little pieces of his game and try add them to mine. ”
In nine fewer games, Tippett posted 75 points for a second straight season and led the team in goals with 36. Despite Tippett’s talent, Richmond found that he still needed to build his confidence.
In certain games, including their Jan. 4, 2018, matchup against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Richmond found that Tippett would back off when the spotlight became too bright. In the first period, Tippett registered a natural hat trick, then went quiet as the Greyhounds tied it.
But Tippett scored the winning goal in the shootout to end the Greyhounds’ 23-game win streak. After the game, Richmond reminded Tippett that it’s all right to be the best player on the ice.
“Some athletes love the bells and whistles and big limelight, and some don’t,” Richmond said. “They just play the game because they love it and they’re good at it. And I don’t know if Tippett really likes the limelight. … I think he just likes winning. ”
The following year, Tippett didn’t make the Panthers and was sent straight to junior, which Richmond called “a bit of a slap in the face” and a wake-up call.
“He went in and didn’t have that same fight or desperation to play away from the puck,” Richmond said.
Tippett continued to excel in the OHL, playing at over a point-per-game pace for the first 23 games of the season. But the Steelheads were struggling and needed to set their sights on the future.
For the first and only time as a general manager, Richmond asked a player for approval before he traded him. In Tippett’s case it was to Saginaw.
“That might be one of my worst days in hockey, because I absolutely love him as a person,” Richmond said. “I don’t think there’s a more genuine soul out there.”
With the Spirit, Tippett continued to become more confident on the ice, registering 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists) in 31 games and leading the team in scoring through the playoffs (22 points in 17 games).
“I remember just sitting there in practice, like passing him the puck, one-timers or just watching him shoot the puck and it was like he was scoring at will,” former Spirit linemate and Winnipeg Jets forward Cole Perfetti said. “I was a 16-year-old kid, just came into the OHL, and I didn’t have the hardest shot. I thought I had a pretty good shot, but seeing him, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s the kind of shot it takes to get to the NHL.’ ”
Tippett started the following season with Florida’s former AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, and led the team in scoring (19 goals, 21 assists in 46 games). But carving out a full-time role at the NHL level proved to be a challenge with the increasingly deep Panthers organization.
Over the course of his 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, Tippett played 87 NHL games and put up 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists). This year, as the Panthers started to get healthy in February, Tippett became the odd man out and was loaned to the Checkers.
Meanwhile, as the Flyers struggled and it became apparent that Giroux was going to be traded, the team began to narrow in on potential trades. Assistant to the general manager Danny Brière scouted Tippett with the Checkers and was taken by more than just his shot.
“I was really impressed with how he moves on the ice, too,” Brière said. “That was one of the things that we liked about him. Has a powerful skating stride, moves well. With that skill set, he can get on the forecheck, he can put pressure, he can keep take time and space away [from] opponents. ”
Since the trade, Tippett has played 11 games with the Flyers, registering two goals and an assist. He has played in the Flyers’ top six and has featured on the power play.
»READ MORE: How the Wells Fargo Center transforms from ice rink to basketball court in mere hours
Now, with a new opportunity in hand, Tippett looks to take the next step in his career and become a full-time NHLer.
“I’d like to see him grow into that top-six forward that they want him to be and everybody expects him to be and he has the ability to be that,” Richmond said. “That’s what I’m hoping he grows into for them. And for himself. Great, great kid, great player. He’ll get there. ”