– Vincent Trocheck isn’t surprised by his own success
After bouncing back and forth between the AHL and NHL during his first two professional campaigns, the Florida Panthers’ fiery pivot entered the 2015-16 season with an admittedly large chip resting on his wide shoulder pads.
"You obviously want to play in the NHL and this is where I want to be,” Trocheck said last summer. “I've loved every second of it and every time I've been here it's been a blast. This summer I'm going to work hard and come into camp next season looking to make the team."
With a good offseason under his belt and a strong performance during training camp, Trocheck wasted little time in announcing his presence to the hockey world, scoring a career-high four points (1-3-4) to lead the Panthers to a 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Opening Night at the BB&T Center.
After that breakout performance, the 22-year-old would go on to established career highs in goals (25), assists (28) and points (53) in 76 games, spending the majority of those contests in between Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith on Florida’s high-scoring second line.
“I think it was just a matter of getting the opportunity,” said Trocheck, who played in 78 AHL games from 2013-2015. “I think I always knew I could [succeed in the NHL]. I got the opportunity this year and got a bigger role than I had the last couple years. I think that’s where I definitely started to get my confidence.
“I started to play with (Jussi Jokinen) and (Reilly Smith), and getting comfortable with those guys was definitely a big help for me. Once we got on a roll, it was all uphill from there.”
An in-your-face forward that causes nearly as much havoc in the neutral zone as he does in the offensive zone, Trocheck was unfortunately sidelined for 10 games, including four playoff games, with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot near the end of the regular season.
Trocheck was thankfully able to return to the Panthers lineup midway through their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with the New York Islanders, resulting in one of the gutsiest two-game performances in franchise history as he skated for 63:05 in back-to-back double overtime games to close out the series.
“I was good enough to go,” Trocheck said. “I couldn’t make it any worse. It was just a matter of dealing with it and dealing with the pain a little bit. I was fine. Once the adrenaline gets a hold of you in the playoffs, you don’t feel a thing.”
No longer on the cusp of his NHL dreams, Trocheck couldn’t help but flash a few grins when asked to sum up his breakout season for reporters after cleaning out his locker at the BB&T Center. The Pittsburgh, Pa., native had accomplished exactly what he set out to achieve prior to the start of the season and, much to Trocheck’s surprise and delight, he was able to share it with one of his childhood heroes.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Trocheck said of his newfound relationship with former Penguins star and teammate Jaromir Jagr. “I grew up watching him in Pittsburgh. I lived right around the corner from him and watched him win a (Stanley) Cup. I watched all his glory days. I had a VHS highlight tape that was literally half Jaromir Jagr highlights, then I get to play with him during my first full year in the NHL. It’s pretty incredible.
“In my parents’ basement we have a No. 68 jersey signed by him along with all the (Mario) Lemieux memorabilia. It was pretty special. It’s so surreal. You never think in years that when you’re one-year old, or whenever you’re born, that there’s a guy in the NHL winning Stanley Cups. Then, you turn 20 years old, and he’s still in the NHL and you’re playing with him. “
The Panthers set an NHL modern-day record for the fastest four goals to start a season, with Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen each scoring in the first 6:46 of a 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Opening Night at the BB&T Center.
While many of the 19,424 fans in attendance were still shuffling around the arena looking for their seats, Trocheck wasted little time in breaking the ice on Florida’s 2015-16 campaign, cashing in on a juicy rebound just 1:23 into the contest for the fastest goal to start a season in Panthers history.
"We've got a powerful offensive team," Trocheck said after the game. "That's going to be huge moving forward. We've got to focus on defense first this year. That's one of our goals and that's what we've talked about a lot and the offense will come."
Trocheck tied his NHL career high for points with a goal and three assists in the Panthers' 6-2 win against the Ottawa Senators at the BB&T Center on March 10.
With the game tied 2-2 in the second period, Trocheck connected with Aaron Ekblad on a nifty pass from behind Ottawa’s net, allowing the 20-year-old defenseman to sweep the puck past goaltender Craig Anderson for what would prove to be the eventual game-winning goal.
"We just needed a little bit more confidence in here," said Trocheck, who scored midway through the third period to make it 6-2. "We're a young team. The confidence was a little bit down, so having a win like this, scoring that many goals, it definitely gets your confidence back up.”
GOAL OF THE YEAR
It was the ping heard ‘round the world… Well, at least around South Florida.
With a chance to reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division late in the regular season, Trocheck played the role of hero in Florida’s 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on March 24. With a head full of steam, the feisty forward outskated Bruins forward Loui Eriksson at center ice, creating enough space to fire a shot off the cross bar and past goaltender Tuukka Rask for shorthanded goal that would prove to be the eventual game winner.