A new name was added to the Panthers’ 20-goal scorers’ club on Thursday night: Vincent Trocheck. The 22-year old has come into his own over the course of this season, which is his first full campaign in the big leagues, and he sparked the Panthers to a huge win over the Senators yesterday.
In a season where the Panthers have lost their top centers in Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad more than once, Vincent Trocheck has had to step up, and he’s answered the bell each time. After playing in 50 games last year for the Panthers in addition to 23 with the team’s former AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, the Pittsburgh-native made the final leap into the NHL this season and started out on the wing, an un-natural position for him, due to a surplus of centers.
When Aleksander Barkov went down with a hand injury for an extended period of time in late October, Trocheck moved back to center, his original position, and convinced head coach Gerard Gallant that he couldn’t be moved again.
“Center is his natural position so he’s happy being there obviously and he’s playing pretty well,” said Gallant back in November.
I don’t think it’s been any different playing wing or center,” said Trocheck. “I got comfortable playing the wing whenever Barkov was in there and I got to the point where it felt natural.”
The difference in his play was obvious, however, and so Trocheck remained in the middle. He was called upon to step on up when Nick Bjugstad missed all of December with mysterious migraines, and he flourished once again. With Bjugstad admittedly not having his best season, Trocheck has remained on the Panthers’ 2nd line with veteran Jussi Jokinen and first-time Panther Reilly Smith, and it’s seemingly been a match made in heaven.
Amongst line combinations that have played together for at least 300 minutes, the line of Jokinen, Trocheck, and Smith has the 2nd-best Relative Corsi For% in the entire league at 10.54, so essentially that means the Panthers possess the puck more and get more shots on goal when they’re on the ice as opposed to when they’re not.
Trocheck leads the Panthers with 121 individual scoring chances at 5v5 even strength. He not only has 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) over his past 20 games, but he’s also a cool 52.1% in the faceoff circle during that period of time as well.
“I feel we have two 1st lines right now,” said Jussi Jokinen after the 6-2 win. “That’s what we’re gonna need going forward.”
The line clicked yet again on Thursday night as Trocheck and Jokinen especially account for a bulk of the offense for the Panthers. Trocheck scored a goal and tied a career-high with 3 assists in the game to register his second 4-point night of the season with his first having come on Opening Night against the Flyers. After defeating the Senators, he put it simply by saying, “I felt pretty good today.”
The outburst propelled the Panthers to a huge win against a division rival after losing 5 of their 6 games prior and helped them keep pace in a playoff race that seems to be getting tighter by the day. Trocheck also praised his linemate Jussi Jokinen and credited some of his own success to the veteran winger.
“[Jokinen has] been making it easy for me since I got here,” said Trocheck. “He’s a special player…extremely smart in all 3 zones and he makes it easy for me…he’s a great role model.”
Jokinen gave it right back to Trocheck just minutes later.
“He’s a great player, I love playing with him,” said Jokinen. “He’s taken some big steps this year, he’s getting better every day.”
Trocheck doesn’t know it, but he also got some high praise from Jaromir Jagr after the game as well. Jagr scored 2 goals, but he didn’t take much of the credit for the victory, especially since Trocheck set him up for one of his goals.
“He’s got a lot of skill, but those legs under him…he’s a great skater,” said Jagr on Trocheck. “He’s got a lot of patience, and he’s not afraid. What I like about him is he doesn’t make many mistakes, but when he does, he doesn’t really worry about it.”
To cap off the night, not only was Trocheck named the first star of the game, but he was awarded the ‘Spacey In Space’ hoodie for the first time this season, and apparently it came a bit later than he was hoping for.
“This is my first one, I’ve been vying for it for awhile now,” said Trocheck.
While it’s (surprisingly) his first one, it definitely won’t be his last, that’s for sure.