The Panthers’ forward group had a ton of success this season, and Vincent Trocheck had a lot to do with it. Although he was already pegged as being a difference-maker in the future for the Panthers, no one expected him to break out as suddenly and quickly as he did. Read on for a look back at what made Trocheck’s 2015-16 campaign – his first full season in the NHL – so great.
For a period of time, Vincent Trocheck was one of the Panthers’ top players not playing in the NHL. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 Draft, Trocheck spent a considerable amount of time in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage while Jonathan Huberdeau, who was drafted 3rd overall in the same draft, made his NHL debut and never looked back. Even after Trocheck made his debut back in March of 2014, he still had a bit to go in terms of playing a solid game on both the defensive and offensive side of the puck, although anyone watching at home or at the arena could tell that the talent and skill was there. After beginning the 2014-15 season in the AHL, Trocheck got the call again before being sent back for the final time as he’s been with the big club ever since being recalled in February of 2015.
This season, it didn’t take Trocheck long at all to get on his name on the scoresheet as he scored the Panthers’ first goal on Opening Night against the Flyers before tallying 3 assists to cap off a 4-point night, tying a career high for points in a game and setting one for the most assists. Trocheck played primarily on the wing – not his natural position of center – at the start of the season before sliding into the 2nd-line slot as Nick Bjugstad filled in for Aleksander Barkov who sustained a hand injury in late-October. In mid-November, Trocheck was performing at nearly a point-per-game pace as he sat second in team scoring with 11 points in 15 games and a total of 6 goals which was one behind Jaromir Jagr for the team lead; head coach Gerard Gallant had no choice but to keep him at center.
Aside from a couple of stretches without recording points, Trocheck never really slowed down as he began to emerge as a legitimate two-way threat. His strong performance combined with Nick Bjugstad missing all of December with migraines literally gave the Panthers’ coaching staff no choice but to put him in on the 2nd line with Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith, and that’s really when the magic happened.
It’s difficult to talk about any of those three players without at least mentioning the line as a whole, because they completely dominated the opposition 9.9 times out 10 thanks to their incredible chemistry and therefore gave the Panthers yet another dangerous scoring line. When the three players were apart from each other, their goal rates and possession percentages all dropped significantly, and just from the eye-test, it’s clear that they each bring several different elements to the line combo making it all the more successful. When Bjugstad returned to the lineup in January, Gallant once again was forced to keep the 2nd-line intact.
Trocheck’s regular season ended on March 29th when he blocked a P.A. Parenteau point shot with his right heel/ankle on the penalty kill, fracturing his fibula.
He wouldn’t return until 3 weeks later on April 22nd in game 5 of the Panthers’ 1st-round playoff series against the Islanders, and he recorded his first career playoff point – an assist – in game 6 on April 24th. In an end-of-season interview, Trocheck admitted that he wasn’t fully healed, although playing wasn’t going to make it worse and it was just a matter of dealing with some pain. He was all over the ice in the 2 playoff games he played in and you could hardly tell he was recovering from a fractured fibula if you didn’t know in the first place.
When everything was said and done, Trocheck reached career highs in goals (25), assists (28), points (53), and plus-minus (+15) in 76 games while also earning Second Star of the Week (3/7-3/13) and Third Star of the Week honors (2/1-2/7). During the season, Trocheck earned some high praise from the future Hall-of-Famer, Jaromir Jagr.
“He’s got a lot of skill, but those legs under him…he’s a great skater,” said Jagr. “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.”
Now, let’s take a look at Trocheck’s analytics so we can then combine those with the visuals to give us a complete picture of his success. Remember, advanced stats are not the end-all, be-all but rather just one piece of the puzzle; the eye-test is just as important, if not more important, so we’ll be taking both into account.
Based on Trocheck’s Corsi data above, it’s clear that he performed fairly well this season. Although his 5v5 Corsi For percentage of 51.48 isn’t too far over the league average of 50, it’s important to take into account the fact that the Panthers were below 50% for most of the season. Trocheck was one of only a handful of players on the entire team that not only finished above the 50% mark, but also remained there for the entire second half of the season. His Relative Corsi For % mark of 4.47 proves that he was better at generating shots attempts than most of his teammates, and also led the team in individual shot attempts at 5v5 which could be why he saw so much success in the goal column.
Trocheck’s HERO chart – which is a 3-year regression rather than one season’s data – shows more of the same as well. It labels him as a 2nd-line scoring center and if you’ve watched him at all even just this year, you’d say that’s pretty much spot on. All of his rate stats are around those of a 1st-liner and the Corsi For % area at the top shows that players are better when they’re on the ice with him compared to when they’re with other players. Trocheck saw significant minutes this year as a result of injuries to key players, and just by looking at the stats, we can see that he benefitted greatly from playing in an expanded role which included penalty-kill time, power play time on both units, and increased even-strength minutes.
When looking at stats, we must also consider how a player actually performs on the ice, because that’s pretty important too. When we compare Trocheck’s on-ice performance with his analytics, it really comes as no surprise that he was able to achieve what he did as he was playing with a ton of confidence.
Two of the biggest reasons for Trocheck’s success this season were his speed and and his shot, and this clip above captures both of those things. Not only does he skate through all 3 zones, but he also forces the defenders – who had decent gaps initially – to simultaneously back off and become flat-footed. Once Trocheck gains the offensive zone blue-line, he’s pretty much set because the defenders no longer have good enough footing, gaps, or positioning to defend him properly, and at that point, he’s able to let go of a shot into the top shelf.
This goal also came on the power play, a place where the Panthers were mightily inconsistent during the season and then fell behind in during the playoffs. Speed through the neutral zone is important not only during 5-on-5 play, but also on the power play when the objective is to get past the defenders stacked up at the blue-line to get set up. Trocheck’s speed is something that needs to be put to use more often when rushing up the ice and attempting to gain the zone with the man advantage. Of course, it won’t work every time, he won’t score this way every time, and they also shouldn’t do it every time like they tried with the Brandon Pirri one-timer. However, it’s clear from the clip above and many of the ones below that his speed is very effective and a legitimate threat when it comes to getting into the offensive zone; it’s not easy for the opposition to control.
On what was probably Trocheck’s biggest goal of his career so far, he put his speed and shot on display once again in a pivotal game against a divisional rival. After intercepting a pass deep in the defensive zone while on the penalty kill with the game tied at 1, Trocheck sped through all 3 zones and caught a forward back trying to defend. It’s already difficult for defensemen to gauge Trocheck’s speed and that means it’s even more difficult for a forward to do as the clip above shows; he was in trouble before Trocheck even hit the red-line.
The shot is so perfectly placed in the top right corner of the net that Tuukka Rask hardly had a chance at it even though he was out in front of the blue paint to cut down the angle. Several times this year, Trocheck carried the puck into the zone in a similar fashion as the clip above but would instead drive wide and attempt a wraparound rather than shooting it point-blank. Overall, his skating ability gives him a lot options offensively making it even more difficult to predict what he’s going to do.
Once again, we see Trocheck’s speed and shot come into play as well as some of his underrated puck-handling abilities in the clip above. The play starts back in the defensive zone with Trocheck gathering a rebound and giving it off to Jussi Jokinen who’s in a support position on the right wing. Trocheck then gets some room to wind up and takes the puck back from Jokinen, and the young forward speeds through the center of the ice. He then gets past a defender who jumps up and hits Trocheck’s legs instead of the puck because of his speed and he’s able to wait a second or two longer to get into a better shooting position. His laser of a wrist shot ends up in the back of the net despite the fact that he was falling down while being hooked and Jimmy Howard was in a decent spot in front of his crease.
Trocheck is also an adept playmaker, and his on-ice awareness combined with his speed and strength down low and along the boards make him a threat to create offense and opportunities for other players. He was playing with so much confidence this season and it was obvious even when he was setting plays up rather than just scoring goals.
This clip above shows what is probably one of the Panthers’ most well-executed plays off the forecheck of the entire season; it couldn’t have been drawn up or carried out any better than it was. Once again, Trocheck’s speed is a factor as he’s able to skate in and beat the defender to the corner boards.
While the defender is limited to what he can do due to the possibility of an interference penalty if he significantly impedes Trocheck’s forward progress to the puck, he is able to disrupt him to some extent. However, Trocheck’s skating ability really doesn’t give him that option, so they end up meeting at the boards. Just before that happens, Trocheck looks over his right shoulder and spots Smith who he back-passes the puck to right as he goes into the boards with Zach Bogosian, who also happens to be a lot bigger than Trocheck. We also have to take into account the fact that the Sabres had some terrible coverage on this play and stopped skating for the most part, but overall, the puck doesn’t get to Smith in the first place if Trocheck doesn’t make an effort to get after the puck and win the battle.
Not only is Trocheck a highly-skilled player, but he also brings an element of grit to the Panthers’ lineup, and he’s surprisingly strong along the boards. In this play above, he gets nailed from behind but doesn’t give up and still has the wherewithal to be able to pass the puck to a wide open Jussi Jokinen while laying on his side. He had no play to the point and no play into the corner, so he had no choice but to eat the puck along the boards. The key to this play and the end result being a goal is Trocheck not giving up, and that’s something he did a lot of this year.
The play above is somewhat similar to the one before in that Trocheck’s effort and tenacity keeps the play alive and ends in a goal for. Trocheck is able to jump the circle and continue towards the net with the puck immediately after winning the draw. When his shot is stopped by Halak, he’s able to regain control of the puck and curl a pass – while falling down – to the front of the net where Jussi Jokinen puts it in for a goal; clearly, Trocheck is pretty good at this ‘diving pass’ thing. Overall, it’s a really smart play by him as all of the Islander players were confused by what happened, and that allowed him and Jokinen to get in behind everyone to execute the play.
John Tavares is one of the best players in the NHL whether the puck is on his stick or not, and measuring in at 6’1″, 211 pounds, he’s not exactly the easiest player to defend down low or along the boards. That is, however, exactly what Trocheck did in the above clip as Tavares attempted to get out from behind the net. He had a pass option – and decided against it for whatever reason – but the ability of Trocheck to stick with Tavares – despite him trying to change direction twice and push the 5’10” forward out of the way – is pretty impressive and goes to show how far he’s come with regards to his defensive play.
Tavares wasn’t the only top center that Trocheck matched up against this season as he also faced Sidney Crosby on February 15th when Aleksander Barkov was forced out of the lineup due to a concussion. Trocheck spent his shifts buzzing around all 3 zones and won 14 of 21 face-offs against Crosby, including 6 of 10 draws in the defensive zone and 4 of 5 draws in the offensive zone. While Trocheck didn’t shut him down completely, he kept Crosby and his line in check while also setting up some solid scoring chances, including one off the forecheck where he was in a support position and received a pass off a steal by Reilly Smith. Jagr came off the bench and glided into the high slot where Trocheck passed it to him for a one-timer without even looking to see where the 44-year old was.
In the play above, we see Trocheck’s puck pursuit on display like it has been in several of these clips. Before the clip starts, the Senators try a breakout pass which is deflected and controlled in the neutral zone by Jussi Jokinen who then carries the puck into the zone.
At that point, the puck is deflected off Jokinen’s stick to the halfboards and the clip starts as Trocheck races to get the puck. All it takes is a lift of Alex Chiasson’s stick and a no-look, backhanded drop-pass to Reily Smith who then curls around and feeds the puck to the point for a shot attempt by Kulikov. Not only is it a solid play by Trocheck to regain control of the puck for the Panthers, but it leads to a shot on net which, as we know, the more you have, the better chance you have at scoring goals. It’s also much better than the Senators taking the puck away and breaking out of the defensive zone.
The clip above shows Trocheck’s determination and strength down low to keep a play alive. He’s able to carry the puck from behind the net, escape a check by Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, and send the it up to the point where the play is allowed to continue.
It’s a fairly gritty play by Trocheck and considering McDonagh is 6’1″, 216 pounds, it’s not an easy feat. This is something we saw a bit of in Trocheck’s time with the Panthers last season, but this time around, he was much more consistent in his ability to outmuscle opposing players and maintain control of the puck. Plays like these are also a part of having good possession numbers. Sure, he didn’t shoot the puck or create a shot attempt on his own, but by getting away from McDonagh and passing the puck to someone in a position to shoot the puck, he’s able to set up shot attempts for his teammates.
This final clip above is yet another example of how Trocheck can be effective on the forecheck even without using his speed at all. Josh Gorges feels the pressure of Trocheck bearing down on him and mishandles the puck as a result. The 22-year old finishes his check on Gorges and is then able to dive to swat the puck away from Rasmus Ristolainen who was about a second away from controlling the puck and sending it up the boards to his teammate. He was a second too late as Trocheck beat him to it, and the puck eventually made its way to the other side of the Sabres’ zone where a small battle ensued before being carried out.
While nothing significant came of Trocheck preventing the Sabres’ breakout, the goal is to make it more difficult on the other team to do what they want to do. Perhaps next time, the puck will pop out to the blue-line for a shot that goes into the net, but the point is to do your best to prevent the opposing players to have everything their way.
These clips are only a small sample of Trocheck’s season, and overall, it was exciting to watch him develop this year. He committed himself to being a better player on the defensive side of the puck, and that commitment combined with his speed and awareness is what allowed him to perform at the level he did this year.
Of course, Trocheck wasn’t perfect as there’s always room for improvement, and this was the first time we saw him really go the extra mile to be a better 200-foot player. At times, he found himself puck-watching, too deep in the offensive zone which allowed attacking players to skate in on an odd-man rush, or trying to force plays through the middle of the ice (which actually worked on one occasion and led to a Jokinen goal), but the goal is for the positives to outweigh the negatives, and he accomplished that for the most part.
As it has been already and as we’ve mentioned several times before, his speed will be a key for the Panthers who thrive on a good forecheck and getting the puck through the neutral zone. Trocheck’s development curve has turned out really well thus far, and his breakout season couldn’t have come at a better time for the Panthers. After a successful season like this one, the sky is really the limit for Trocheck who has a chance to solidify himself as one of the more underrated scoring centers in the league starting next year.