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Lipkin will also have the opportunity to defend the national title. The Bobcats will lose key players off this veteran laden roster, including forward Skyler Brind’Amour, the son of Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who signed a PTO with the Charlotte Checkers, the Florida Panthers’ AHL affiliate. But Quinnipiac will also return leading scorer Collin Graf, who finished third in NCAA Division I with 59 points. They will return forward Jacob Quillan, who scored the game-winning goal in the NCAA title game off a cross-seam, backhand pass from Lipkin. And of course, they will return Lipkin, who even surprised his coach with the progress he made this season. “He committed to us when he was roughly 16 and we loved him because he had good size, a high IQ, great character and some power-play skills as more of a net-front, bumper type guy,” said Pecknold, who also coached Lipkin on Team USA at the 2023 World Junior Championship. “He just had to develop as an athlete and do some natural filling out. “I thought he was going to be one of the better freshmen in our league and I also thought we were gonna put him in a position to succeed by putting him with good players and putting him on one of the power plays, but he was even better than I thought. He had a phenomenal eight months with us. A lot of that credit goes to Quinnipiac and Sam and our strength coaches, but also, I think his World Junior experience really helped him. He attended that summer camp and we were gone for about 27 days. That really helped him with his skating and trying to play at pace; trying to push the pace.” Lipkin’s meteoric rise actually began two seasons earlier with the Steel, which may be the best development program in the USHL. Much like Josh Doan in his first season in Chicago, Lipkin didn’t play much in his first season with the Steel. He had three goals and 11 points in 30 games, but the Steel allowed him to play 19 games for the New Jersey Rockets of the National Collegiate Development Conference, where he had 12 goals and 25 points in 19 games. “You want to go where you’re gonna play,” Pecknold said. “I thought it was brilliant; really good foresight on their part. That helped him a lot and then he had a great second season with Chicago (36 goals, 71 points in 59 games).” Lipkin’s primary point of contact with the Coyotes has been director of player development Lee Stempniak, with whom he was on the phone every week while he played in Chicago. NCAA regulations do not permit the Coyotes development coaches to get on the ice with college players, but Lipkin also does video work with Nathaniel Brooks and he worked with skating coach Lars Hepso at last year’s development camp.
While the Coyotes pursued a contract in hopes of getting their development staff more time with Lipkin, they are content with his decision. “Sam made a great, educated decision,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said. “He wanted to be a year away from pro hockey and use that year to get stronger, bigger and faster so that when he came in he had a better chance. I’m not going to disagree with him. “He’s going back to a great school in Quinnipiac. They do a great job and he’s going to be one of the leaders. He’s going to have a bigger role, but he’s someone that we’re extremely excited about. He reminds me a little bit of Michael Bunting in the way he plays and complements the skill, but he can make the play when it’s there.” Lipkin said he plans to arrive early for Coyotes development camp this summer. He is looking forward to another taste of pro competition, but he will arrive this year with a more focused sense of purpose and an overflowing well of confidence. “Being a late pick, you hear the doubters saying, ‘You’re never gonna make it. Seventh-rounders don’t make the NHL, but for me, I’m just focusing on my own path and really just trying to expand my game as much as I can,” he said. “I think I’m going to get rewarded for it.”
Top photo of Sam Lipkin after winning the NCAA title via Getty Images
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