Vincent Trocheck will be a game-time decision for the Florida Panthers when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs at BB&T Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, SNO, NHL.TV).
The 25-year-old center, who has missed 27 games since breaking his right ankle in a game against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 19, practiced with the Panthers for the first time on Thursday.
Coach Bob Bougher said after the practice that Trocheck would likely return when the Panthers played the Nashville Predators in their first game after the All-Star break on Feb. 1, but that plan changed on Friday.
"As of yesterday, he wasn't supposed to (play), but he came in pounding the table," Boughner said. "You know [Trocheck], he wants to be back in so bad. The doctors sort of reaffirmed that he's back to 100 percent, so now it's just our decision.
"I wanted to see, I told him yesterday to let him know how he felt after a contact practice yesterday. He came in feeling great and had a little jump in his step and begging to play, so we'll see."
Trocheck, who had NHL career highs in goals (31), assists (44) and points (75) last season, had been working on the ice for the past two weeks but Thursday was the first time he practiced with his teammates.
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"I think it was pretty important to just be around the guys," said Trocheck, who has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 18 games this season. "I've been here for six years, and the majority of these guys, all these guys that have been here with me, are my best friends. They're like my family. You take them away from me, it's a little bit more difficult to go through the process of getting back.
"Being around them, in good times and in bad times, they're definitely people that can lift me up and keep me on a positive track."
Boughner said the absence of Trocheck, who was averaging 20:14 of ice time this season, has had a big impact on the lineup. Florida is 9-13-5 since Trocheck was injured.
"He's a passionate guy," Boughner said. "He plays with a lot of jam, and that's infectious. Guys like that, during times like this, those are the kind of guys that need to push your through it. I think we've probably missed him more than we thought we were. We knew it was going to be a tough injury for us, and it's devastated us."
The Panthers (17-20-8) entered play Thursday 14 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
"It's obviously frustrating whenever you have to watch and it's not going the way we want it to go and I can't be out there to help," said Trocheck, who has 226 points (94 goals, 132 assists) in 328 NHL games, all with the Panthers. "Who knows how big of a help I'd be, but any time a time like this is going on, I want to be out there and do as much as I can to help."
Trocheck was injured with 1:47 left in the first period against Ottawa at Canadian Tire Centre. His right leg got tangled underneath him when he hit the end boards in the Ottawa zone fighting for control of the puck with Senators forward Ryan Dzingel during a penalty kill. Trocheck had to be stretchered off the ice and needed surgery on the ankle.
"It obviously wasn't pretty to watch," Trocheck said. "But the rehab went great, surgery went great. I feel great. It's over now and hopefully I can move forward.
"It's just a matter of getting the hockey mind back."