SUNRISE, Fla. - Injuries to star forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov forced Vincent Trocheck to take on a bigger role with the Florida Panthers during the 2016-17 season.
Trocheck, 23, was unfazed by the burden, stepping up when the Panthers needed him most to score a team-leading 54 points (23-31-54) while averaging a career-high 20:49 of ice time per game.
Still, after failing to return to the playoffs, Trocheck isn't feeling accomplished.
"We all want to win," Trocheck said after cleaning out his locker at the BB&T Center in April. "Everybody in this locker room wants to win. They built this team with guys that are winners and have that passion. We are expecting a lot next year and I think everybody is going to come in ready to play."
When it comes to passion, you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who wants to win each and every game more than Trocheck. He brings an unbridled intensity to the ice and wears his heart on his sleeve in the locker room, a unique set of traits that has certainly endeared him to his teammates.
"A lot of times this game just comes down to work ethic," Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad said of Trocheck in January, "and he's got it."
With success also came recognition and Trocheck was selected to represent the Panthers at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
"I was kind of shocked and excited," Trocheck said of his All-Star selection. "There's not really much else I can say. I didn't really expect it… It was awesome. I'm just really excited to be able to go to [the All-Star Game] and share it with my family."
As one of the league's up-and-coming talents, Trocheck did far more than stargaze throughout an unforgettable weekend in the City of Angels, starring for the Atlantic Division in both the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and NHL All-Star Tournament.
In the All-Star Skills Competition, he posted a time of 13.320 to win his race against Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds (13.650) in the Fastest Skater event and buried his only one-time attempt during the Skill Challenge Relay. In the All-Star Tournament, he finished with a goal and three assists, placing him in a tie with Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov for the team lead in points with four.
"I had a lot of fun," Trocheck said of his first All-Star Weekend. "I was able to go in a few [skills] competitions and do alright, so I'm just glad I didn't fall. I don't think there was any one part that was my favorite. I think the whole thing was just exciting. I was having fun watching."
With another exceptional season now in his rearview mirror, Trocheck is beaming with confidence while turning his attention to the road ahead, as the Panthers look to return to the playoffs and contend for a Stanley Cup in 2017-18.
"I don't think it's going to take much at all," Trocheck said. "I think we have the team to do even better than we did last year. It's going to be a few tweaks. If we can come in with the right mindset next year, I think we'll be right back on track."
Trocheck has always taken a lot of pride in his faceoffs.
After winning 47.7 percent of his draws as a rookie in 2013-14, Trocheck has slowly been improving in small increments every season since, culminating in a career-best faceoff percentage of 50.2 this past season.
What's even more impressive, however, is the amount of faceoffs that he takes.
Amazingly, Trocheck's 1,664 faceoffs this past season were not only the eighth-most in the entire NHL, but also the most by any Panthers skater since Olli Jokinen took 1,986 draws in 2003-04.
Trocheck scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the BB&T Center on Nov. 3. "There were three of us on the rush so they gave me the lane and I took the shot," Trocheck said after the game. "Schneider is a good goalie and made the first save, and then the puck came back to me and I put in the rebound."
Video: Trocheck leads the Panthers to 4-3 OT victory
GOAL OF THE YEAR
With time ticking down in regulation, Trocheck fires a long slap shot through heavy traffic and past St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen for the game-winning goal with just a few seconds left on the clock.
"It felt like we won the Stanley cup for just a second," Trochek said after the game. "I think to do it with four seconds on the clock, we showed a lot of poise there in the third period, even when they tied it up."
Video: FLA@STL: Trocheck tallies late go-ahead goal