CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- On a team overflowing with former first-round picks, center Vincent Trocheck, a third-round pick in 2011, continues to climb the Florida Panthers depth chart thanks in large part to his knack for finding the back of the net.
Trocheck, 22, is currently second on the Panthers in goals (7) and third in points (13). He is also tied with forward Reilly Smith for the team-lead in power-play points with three.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but I wouldn’t say I expected it either,” Trocheck said of his early-season success. “I didn’t really go into the season thinking, ‘Hey, in the first 10 games I’m going to score 100 goals’. You go into the season and just play your game.”
He’ll likely finish the season well short of 100, but after scoring only seven goals in 50 games for the Panthers last season, it’s safe to say that Trocheck has a very good chance to smash several of his personal records this season.
And although it might take some time for the rest of the league to take notice, Trocheck has already begun to earn the respect and trust of his teammates both on and off the ice.
“He’s been a great player ever since I’ve known him,” said teammate Rocco Grimaldi, who captured a gold medal with Trocheck while playing for Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships. “He was a great player then and he’s an even better player now… He’s playing with a lot of confidence and is definitely one of the best players on our team.”
After spending the majority of his first two professional seasons honing his skills in the American Hockey League, Trocheck will be the first to tell you that his success didn’t come overnight. Instead, the Pittsburgh, Pa., native insists that he has actually been gradually improving as a player ever since his first season in the Ontario Hockey League in 2009-10.
“I think it was an improvement each year,” said Trocheck, raising his right hand slowly as a means to show his steady improvement. “That’s what I tried to do every year in [the OHL]. If you look at my stats from my first year to my fourth year, there’s an increase in production every year. It’s been like that since I’ve turned pro.
“It’s just an experience thing. I’m playing more and getting smarter. You get used to the game over time. You work harder over the summer and continue to increase all your skills.”
In his final season of junior hockey, Trocheck notched 50 goals and 109 points in 63 games to capture the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player of the Year.
Looking back, Trocheck believes that the award not only garnered him a wealth of newfound national attention, but also served as the perfect springboard to the AHL as he prepared to join Florida’s former minor-league affiliate in San Antonio.
“I think it helped me out with getting onto the coach’s radar,” Trocheck said of the award. “When you’re coming up it’s good for them to know what you’re capable of on the ice. If I didn’t put up those numbers during my last season in the OHL, I might not have been playing on the power play in San Antonio.”
Now an integral member of Florida’s sixth-ranked power play, it’s unclear just how high Trocheck will climb as the dynamic forward continues to improve and impress during his first full season in the NHL.
At this point, however, Trocheck isn’t looking too far ahead into the future. In his mind, the talks of potential and ceilings can wait. For now, the talented young forward prefers to simply savor the moment and reflect on how far he has come in only a short period of time.
“I feel like I’m a full time NHL-er now,” said Trocheck. “That’s kind of a relief off my shoulders and I think that’s behind the confidence I have now. Being able to say that I’m an NHL-er gives me the confidence to go out and just play my game with a stress-free attitude.”
SLED HOCKEY COMES TO SOUTH FLORIDA
More than 250 players from NHL-affiliated teams all across the United States (and one from Canada) converged on the Panthers Iceden over the weekend to compete in the sixth annual USA Hockey Sled Classic.
First staged in 2010, the USA Hockey Sled Classic is an annual round-robin format tournament between NHL-affiliated sled hockey teams. All competing teams represent their affiliated NHL club by wearing official NHL licensed jerseys with local club marks and logos.
“We’re having more and more players play all over the place,” said President of USA Hockey Jim Smith, who was on hand for the event. “Having international success has definitely helped bring exposure to the sport as well as events like the Sled Classic.”
On Sunday, the Florida Panthers defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 to win the Tier 1 Championship.
In conjunction with Harvest Drive, a South Florida-based charitable foundation, the Panthers succeeding in collecting over 3,500 pounds of turkey to support local families in Broward County over the Thanksgiving holiday as part of the team’s annual Turkey Drive at the BB&T Center on Friday.
“That’s a lot of bird,” said forward Shawn Thornton, who joined Quinton Howden, Garrett Wilson, Alex Petrovic, Rocco Grimaldi and goaltending coach Robb Tallas as volunteers at the event. “It was a great thing set up by the team and very nice of people to take time out of their day to come and show their support.”
In addition to a meet and greet with players, fans were also given two tickets to an upcoming home game for each frozen turkey donated.
“It’s a great thing that we’re doing,” said Grimaldi. “It’s important that we help people that aren’t fortunate enough to have a meal on Thanksgiving.”