March 20, 2023
The hats flew down from the Wells Fargo Center, marking a great night on the scoresheet, but for Owen Tippett especially, just how far he's come.
A year ago, he was an aging prospect lost in limbo. His promise never materialized into a regular spot within the Florida Panthers' lineup, and when the time came for them to make the deadline move for Claude Giroux, he was the key return going back to Philadelphia.
It was not a good spot to be in.
But in that first game as a Flyer – a 2-1 win against the Islanders last March – it was clear what he was capable of. He showed off good anticipation of where play was going, a knack for finding open ice, and once the puck came his way, a pretty powerful shot to boot. It was just that the finish wasn't there yet, the puzzle wasn't fully put together.
But at least in Philadelphia, within an organization that just as much needed to figure itself out, he'd be afforded the time and opportunity to do it.
Jump to Friday night's 5-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Tippett rifles home two lasers past goaltender Craig Anderson for goals No. 19 and 20 on the season, then for No. 21, takes off from his own zone to chase down a puck lobbed into center ice on the breakaway.
No one was catching him and Anderson didn't stand a chance. The horn sound, the hats flew, and Tippett had his first career hat trick.
Another new milestone for the 24-year-old in what's been his breakout season.
"Once he started trusting how good he is and getting that confidence, you just see how his game has taken off from here, just directly up the whole season," said defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who sprung Tippett on the lob pass for that last goal, postgame. "Who knows what happens with some of the older guys here, but I’ll tell you what, this guy’s going to be here for a long time. He’s playing great and keeps getting better and better."
In a year that's been pretty lean on bright spots for the Flyers, Tippett has arguably shined the biggest light. His 21 goals and 39 points in 16:54 of average ice time are all career bests by far – and with 13 games still to go. But it's the "how" that's been just as important as "how much."
As the season wore on, Tippett steadily and more noticeably became a more aggressive skater. He had a shot and speed already to his advantage, and increasing confidence with both, but at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, he has size to work with too.
Prior to last Tuesday's 5-3 loss to Vegas, and with the Flyers starved for any kind of offense, head coach John Tortorella expressed that he was looking for Tippett to start using his frame to power the puck toward the net more. And that night, there Tippett was carrying the puck across the blue line and shielding it away from defenders as he tried to push in toward the goal.
The payoff wasn't there immediately but over the weekend, it helped generate nine goals and tons of other scoring chances against Buffalo and then Carolina (a 5-4 loss in overtime).
There's still a ways for Tippett to go, Tortorella said after the Sabres game on Friday, but right now – especially as evidenced by the 21:59 of ice time he's averaging through this month – when the Flyers need something to happen, the coach is looking his way, and just as much, Tippett's looking to get back out there.
"For any player, it doesn’t matter what we say, he’s got to take it. He’s got to have that swagger," Tortorella said. "Tipp has a lot to learn still, but the improvement from where he was in camp, for me, when I was first introduced to him and met him to where he is now mentally, I think he’s made tremendous strides."
He's definitely not lost in limbo anymore though. He's a regular NHL player now and definitely a long, long way from where he was a year ago.
"I think getting traded here last year just gave me a new opportunity and a fresh start," Tippett said. "It’s been great so far, and I love playing in Philly."
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