Camp Check-In: Hawryluk Poised to Make Leap

Jun 28, 2017

As the Florida Panthers began their 2017 development camp on Tuesday, there was a familiar group of Springfield Thunderbird rookies in the fold. The irony of such a situation is that those same players – in particular Jayce Hawryluk, Mike Downing, and Dryden Hunt – are now suddenly the veteran faces of the week’s showcase.

Perhaps none of them are in a better spot to contest for an NHL job than Hawryluk. The Panthers’ second round selection in 2014, already in his fourth development camp at age 21, had to battle through multiple injuries in his rookie season as a pro in 2016-17. Despite the challenges, he discovered his game down the stretch and ended his campaign with 26 points, a +5 rating, and established himself as a constant pestilence to his opponents, even if some of them were up to 15 years his senior.

“(In the AHL), you’re playing against grown men every night, and a lot of those guys have played up in the NHL,” Hawryluk recalls of his first year. “The schedule is not forgiving with 3-in-3’s, and you have to take care of your body on and off the ice.”

With Panthers GM/President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon reiterating that the best players, regardless of age and NHL experience, will be the ones on the ice in Sunrise this October, Hawryluk does not take the early summer camp lightly, citing his previous season as his own proof of his eagerness.

“I definitely feel I’m ready to play at the next level. I’m going to work my butt off this summer to put myself in the best position to make the team come October,” said Hawryluk. “I feel like I could be one of those guys.”

His head coach in Springfield, Geordie Kinnear, shares a similar viewpoint of what makes this camp an important one for the 21-year-old forward.

“(Development camp) is about leadership (for Jayce). You want Jayce to lead the way. It’s a team-first concept, and we want him to lead by example and be a great teammate.”

Of course, the second-year Springfield head coach has a lot to take in this week. Among the camp participants are seven of his Thunderbirds from 2016-17 and a crop of five Florida draft picks who received their dream call last week in Chicago at the NHL Draft.

While fans and analysts are in full evaluation mode, Kinnear is understanding that, first and foremost, there is a lot to learn about the newcomers both on and off the ice.

“(Day 1) is more about getting the guys out there and developing them moreso than evaluation,” Kinnear said.

Translation? It was important to see players prepared to skate hard and condition themselves for the rigors of the upcoming season. The head coach was pleased with day one’s end result.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way the pace was,” he said, commending each of the two groups present. “It’s a skating game; you have to skate and you have to work.”

The Panthers’ 2017 development camp continues today in Coral Springs, Fla. and runs through Friday. Stay tuned to for more check-in’s from Florida, and be sure to follow the Thunderbirds on social media @ThunderbirdsAHL for more updates.

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