"It obviously wasn't pretty to watch," Trocheck said of the injury, which involved his right leg twisting underneath him after getting tangled up with a Senators skater. "But the rehab went great, surgery went great. I feel great. It's over now and hopefully I can move forward."
Labeled "the engine" of the team by Panthers coach Bob Boughner, Trocheck had posted three goals and 11 assists while averaging 20:14 of ice time per game prior to being knocked out of the lineup. And although several players have stepped up, his absence clearly left a big void.
"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."
Boughner said that although Trocheck could get into the lineup for a do-or-die game if needed, the team is going to be cautious and likely keep him out of action until after the break, which means he's expected to miss the team's next three games that lead into the All-Star Weekend.
Still, Boughner was gladdened to see "the old Vinny" again back on the ice again.
"It was a great day for us to see him back out there," Boughner said. "It looks like he's ready. He jumped in all the contact drills… He was scoring off the wing and was working hard out there."
With the Panthers sitting at 17-20-8 on the season and in need of a strong second-half push to climb back into the playoff picture, Trocheck said it's been difficult to watch all of the team's ups and downs unfold over the past two months from the sidelines, unable to do anything to help.
"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," Trocheck said. "I mean 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."
But even when he wasn't in the lineup, Trocheck was never far from the locker room at BB&T Center. For the first month following his surgery while his leg was still in a cast, he would often greet teammates after wins on his knee scooter, cheering them on and fueling the celebration.
Trocheck said being around his teammates took away some of the sting of his long recovery.
"I think it was pretty important to just be around the guys," Trocheck said. "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."
Following the removal of his cast, Trocheck resumed walking about a month ago and has been working on the ice for just over two weeks saying, "everything's pretty much back to normal on the ice." So with those physical hurdles already overcome, his next few steps are mostly mental.
"It's just a matter of getting the hockey mind back," Trocheck said.
On the heels of a career-best campaign in which he posted 31 goals and 75 points, Trocheck's return will undoubtedly provide a huge boost - both on and off the ice - for a Panthers team in desperate need of a huge late-season surge, much like the 25-8-3 run they went on last season.
"Half a season left," Trocheck said. "We're not too far off from the position that we were in last year. Not to say that's a good thing, but there's definitely some room for improvement and definitely a lot of time to do so. I'm extremely excited to get back. Hopefully whenever I do come back we can get a little bit of a roll going and maybe make a push."
McGINN BACK TO WORK
Yet to suit up for the Panther this season, Jamie McGinn is also inching closer to a return.
McGinn, who has been sidelined since undergoing back surgery in mid-September, was on the ice prior to today's practice, chatting with teammates and shooting a few pucks before heading back to the locker room. Boughner said McGinn has been skating for roughly a week and a half.
"He feels real good," Boughner said of McGinn. "He's going to take pre-game skate with us tomorrow morning. I think that he's trying to plan to be back, I don't know how soon, after the break. Again, for him, he feels good from his back point of view. Now it's just about getting in shape and being out there with the team practicing."
McGinn underwent back surgery for a similar issue in 2014, limiting him to just 19 games during the 2014-15 season with Colorado. A veteran of nearly 600 NHL games, the 30-year-old winger tallied 13 goals and 16 assists in 76 games last season -- his first as a member of the Panthers.
"It's definitely good to see him back and close to being game-ready," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said.
WEEGAR REMAINS OUT
Florida's blue line will be without MacKenzie Weegar for at least this weekend.
When asked for an update on his status, Boughner said that the 25-year-old defenseman remains in concussion protocol after being driven into the boards by a dangerous hit from Canadiens forward Paul Byron during the second period of Tuesday's game in Montreal.
Initially, Byron received just a two-minute charging penalty on the play.
"I thought we should have had a five-minute power play there," Boughner said when asked about the hit after the game. "In my mind he left his feet, there was some intent to injure. We'll let the league take care of that."
On Wednesday, the league did just that, suspending Byron for three games for the hit.
In the midst of his second season with the Panthers, Weegar has become a stable presence on the team's bottom pairing, registering one goal, six assists, 57 blocks and 69 hits in 42 games.
THURSDAY'S PRACTICE LINES
Frank Vatrano - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Jonathan Huberdeau - Henrik Borgstrom - Nick Bjugstad
Mike Hoffman - Jared McCann - Denis Malgin
Jayce Hawryluk - Juho Lammikko - Colton Sceviour
Micheal Haley - Vincent Trocheck - Troy Brouwer
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
Ian McCoshen - Bogdan Kiselevich
Roberto Luongo James Reimer