Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
The Florida Panthers wing has not only continued to play well, but he has even elevated his game recently. He scored a goal and had an assist Thursday in the Panthers' 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins. He is playing with more skill than people probably recognize but also certainly he's been a lot more physical too. Trocheck has goals in three straight games and in four of the past five.
He has 24 goals. Can he get to 30? I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised. He's one of those emerging players to keep your eye on especially coming down the stretch into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His style of play and the skill he has make him an important piece for the Panthers. Prior to this season, his career high in goals was seven and in points was 22. Trocheck is also a plus-14 and a big reason the Panthers are where they are in the standings.
We spoke to James Neal on Thursday night on the arena cam on NHL Network and he's been lighting the lamp. He was able to turn his season around and has 29 goals, including six in his past five games. Filip Forsberg has 31 goals on the season after a slow start, and goalie Pekka Rinne is back to playing how we know he can play.
Nashville has two really good goal scorers in Neal and Forsberg from an effort standpoint but also from an accuracy standpoint with their ability to shoot and score. As Neal said, they've gotten more comfortable with Ryan Johansen, who continues to get acclimated there after a trade on Jan. 6 from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones. It changes things for their team to have a true No. 1 center, and now everyone else is slotted where they need to be with Mike Ribeiro as the No. 2 center and Mike Fisher as the third.
They have a good balance offensively and defensively and are fun to watch. They're only two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks for third place in the Central Division after a 3-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes
Quietly, these two teams have been impressive. When you think of the tradition in each of those places, it was really difficult after each team made major changes but they've managed to hang around in the playoff race.
The Devils are 5-2-0 in their past seven games, all without injured goalie Cory Schneider. Scott Wedgewood has come in and won each of his first two NHL starts, including a 39-save shutout Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had won six straight. Sidney Crosby came in with a 12-game point streak, but now that's over. I spoke to general manager Ray Shero and he talked about how well Kyle Palmieri has played and how well Devante Smith-Pelly has played.
Video: NJD@PIT: Wedgewood makes back-to-back saves on Fehr
The Devils were expected by many to be a lottery team, but are only six points out of a playoff spot right now.
Carolina moved Eric Staal at the NHL Trade Deadline, but is still over NHL .500 at 32-28-14. They ended a five-game losing streak on Thursday with a 3-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets and have played hard all season. They have good, young emerging players in Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm.
I'm really impressed with how they have played and continue to play. They bounce back after losses; the Flyers haven't lost back-to-back games in regulation since Feb. 7-9. Steve Mason has been exceptional in the absence of Michal Neuvirth. Going back to Tuesday facing his original team, the Blue Jackets, he made 51 saves and was minutes away from a win before eventually losing in a shootout. And then Thursday, he makes 32 saves in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche.
How about defenseman Radko Gudas -- five goals in his past 10 games after none in his first 57 games. He had seven NHL goals in his first three seasons combined. And he's been making plays offensively after having been known as a steady physical defensemen.
Lastly, I'm impressed with how much composure rookie coach Dave Hakstol has on the bench. He's calm and has no panic and acts as if he has been an NHL coach for years. The Flyers didn't get off to a great start, but he has them playing well at the right time.