Starting this week in South Florida and lasting for 10 days, the Panthers are conducting a voluntary workout and skating camp. Attending this camp has been most of the full Panthers squad and a few of the younger players that are hoping to show their commitment to the team by taking part.
Two of these young players come to the Panthers from the Western Hockey League, and while their chances to make the NHL squad is a long-shot, their continued development in the AHL will be crucial to their dreams of making the NHL sooner rather than later.
Sean O’Connor (3rd round) and Josh Olson (6th round) were both selected in the 2000 Entry Draft in the Panthers’ effort to get a little bigger on the wings. By all accounts, the Panthers are pleased with their development. Both players should be seeing time with the new AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
Josh Olson, standing 6’5’’, started out in the USHL and made the move to the Portland Winter Hawks, where he had a breakout year by scoring 88 points and helped take his team to the WHL finals in the 2000-2001 season.
The 6’3’’ Sean O’Connor brings a game to the ice that he likes to compare to a NHL player that everyone loves to hate, and he even got involved in a little mischief with a whole organization and a certain town in Saskatchewan.
Both guys were gracious enough to take the time to talk with Hockey’s Future after a vigorous skating session in lieu of enjoying another warm and humid South Florida day.
Hockey’s Future: You guys were drafted in the same draft year in 2000, did you guys happen to know each other before you both got drafted?
Josh Olson: No, not at all.
Sean O’Connor: Well, I played in the Western Hockey League, and he played in the USHL.
HF: Josh, speaking of that, what was the reason that you made the jump from the USHL to the WHL?
JO: Well, when I was drafted by Florida, they offered me a contract and I had quite a few offers to go to major colleges, but I figured that the WHL would be the best road for me.
HF:What colleges were looking at you?
JO: Minnesota, Michigan, and Michigan Tech were the main ones looking at me
HF:Were you happy with your choice to go to the WHL?
JO: Very much so.
HF: How many times have you guys played against each other the last few years?
SO Just once a year
HF:What were the match-ups like when you guys played against each other?
SO Josh was probably pretty scared, I know that! (both laugh)
JO: No, I definitely wasn’t scared, but usually the games were pretty tight games. Portland and Moose Jaw were usually top of the league.
HF:Any good get-togethers on the ice?
JO:Not really, I think more or less we just chit-chatted a little bit out there, but nothing too personal.
HF: Sean, didn’t you and the city of Regina have a little thing going? What was that like and how did it all get started?
SO Yeah, a little. I don’t know, it was just a bunch of rumors and stuff like that. It just ended up being a match between me and the GM of the Pats. It was pretty funny and I had a great time doing it.
HF: So does this mean you won’t be spending your summer vacations in Regina anytime soon?
SO No, I don’t plan on it really! (laughs)
HF: So is everything pretty much water under the bridge now?
SO: Yeah, it is over now. We had fun with it and we sold a lot of tickets.
HF: I heard you and the mayor also had a little bit of a tiff too. What was that all about?
SO: Oh yeah, just joking around a bit. I won a face-off in their rink. A ceremonial face-off and they didn’t think that was too nice. But we won the game and the series, so I was happy.
HF: Josh, you seemed to explode this year by scoring 40 goals and 48 assists. Why did it come together for you this year?
JO: I don’t know. I have been improving a lot these last few years, and as you said, I had a breakout year and hopefully I can continue.
HF: Who were your linemates?
JO: Jakub Klepis and Matt Girling. They are both 17 but they are really good players.
HF: Sean, tell me about your year
SO: It was a little tough. I had to adjust to a checking role position. Tough for me to adjust at first to play with two young guys. But we just went out there and played the way we do and put the body on. It was different, I was more of a leader this year playing as a 20 year old. Took that and tried, but I had fun doing it and hope those younger guys had a good year.
HF: Growing up, was there any guys you tried to emulate and looked up to?
JO: Not really. I always liked Boston a lot and Cam Neely when he was around playing. Other than that, my brother always liked the Canadiens, so they always played each other a lot and we got into it a little bit about that.
SO:A lot of guys I guess. I kinda styled my game after Matthew Barnaby. Him being an agitator, going out there and getting under guy’s skin and taking the body. You can’t go wrong with Gretzky either!
HF: Josh, Tell me about your growing up in North Dakota?
JO: Well, we spent some time there, but in 1990 we moved to Roseau, Minnesota.
HF: Both of you guys are pretty tall guys, when did the growth really take effect? When did you stop growing?
JO: Well, I am not growing anymore. But on my ninth grade football team, I was the shortest guy, and after that I took off in my 10 grade year.
HF: What position did you play?
JO: I played quarterback.
HF: And you never wanted to pursue that anymore?
JO: Well, it wasn’t really a football hotbed in Northern Minnesota, so the hockey was a bigger thing.
HF: Up to this point in your careers, what has been the biggest highlight for you?
JO: I think being drafted and being signed, and doing this camps in Florida. Probably the biggest thing was in High School in Minnesota winning the State Tournament one year.
HF: Sean, what about you?
SO: I don’t know! (laughs)
HF: Hasn’t happened yet?
SO: No! Still waiting for something good to happen (laughs) No, there is a lot of big moments I had, but getting to where I am at this point is pretty exciting.
HF: With Florida drafting Jay Bouwmeester, what has it been like for you guys to face him the last few years in the WHL?
JO: I think Sean can tell you a little bit more about him. I only played against him three of four times. Obviously he is a very good player.
SO: Yeah, he is a very skilled player. He is the kind of guy you go out there and try to hurt when you hit him, but he is just a great player. He is always the best player on the Tigers team they have always had. He has a bright future and he has a good shot at making the NHL this year.
HF: Have you guys given yourself any kind of time frame to make the jump to the NHL?
JO: As soon as possible! (laughs)
SO: No, it is not up to me. I got to keep working hard and see what happens.
HF: How are you guys enjoying your time in South Florida a few times a year? Have you guys had a chance to get out at all?
SO: Yeah, it is so great down here. It is almost like a paid vacation! (laughs)
JO: This is our third time down here, we had a lot of fun and we make the best of it.
HF: Well, enjoy your free time guys and thanks for taking the time to speak with us.