CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - After competing for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, training camp has felt more like a respite than a necessity for Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck.
"I feel like I'm back in shape," said Trocheck, who recorded one goal in three tournament games. "Playing in actual competitive games at the World Cup definitely helped get me back in shape. I feel like I'm ready to go. I just need to gel a little bit with my linemates and teammates and I'll be ready to go for the season."
With a head start on his conditioning, Trocheck is looking to build off a stellar sophomore campaign in which he established new career highs in goals (25), assists (28) and points (53) in 76 games. That exceptional play, in part, helped earn the Pittsburgh, Penn., native a six-year contract extension this summer.
"I think it's just been a progression over the last three years, since I first came into pro hockey and first came into the League," said Trocheck, a third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. "I've just been progressing a little bit each year, every aspect of my game. Last year, I was a little bit more comfortable. It was my first time having a full-time role and I got to play with [Reilly Smith] and [Jussi Jokinen], which was obviously a big help."
One of two forward lines from last year's team that head coach Gerard Gallant insists "aren't going anywhere" heading into the upcoming season, the trio of Trocheck, Smith and Jokinen combined for a staggering 34 goals and 83 points in 31 games after coming together in the latter half of 2015-16.
"He took great steps last year," Jokinen said of Trocheck. "He proved he could put up a lot of points in juniors, but really showed off his two-way game during the last four or five months of the season. He was even playing a little PK at the end of the year and even did some of that during the World Cup. When he saw he could put up points [in the NHL] his confidence got higher and he was able to do the things he did in junior and all his life."
In each of his first three professional seasons, Trocheck has typically entered training camp with a singular goal in mind. As a rookie, it was to simply to play a full season in the NHL. Last year, it was to not only play a full season, but to also carve out a place among the Panthers' top-six forwards.
This season? Well, now it's all about the team.
"I think it's more of a team goal this year," said Trocheck, 23. "We know how good of a team we had last year and we think we should have made it further [in the playoffs] than we did. Going into this season, it's going to take a full team effort. Everybody in here is going to need to step a little bit if we want to win a Cup.
"Ever since this summer since we started making some moves - picking up Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, Mark Pysyk, James Reimer, those guys - ever since we saw [ownership] making moves like that, we really knew they wanted to win. I think that's kind of the attitude in here; we need to win."
After setting franchise records for wins (47) and points (103) last season, the revamped and reloaded Panthers will begin their quest for a Stanley Cup on Thursday, Oct. 13, when the New Jersey Devils visit the BB&T Center for what Trocheck expects to be a thrilling Opening Night contest.
"I think Opening Night is one of the most adrenaline rushing nights of the season along with, obviously, the playoffs," said Trocheck, who notched a career-high four points in a 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in last season's opener. "I think everyone is looking forward to it."