Vincent Trocheck: Biding his time

Reading about the 2013 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships held in Ufa, Russia, you’ll see that the tournament was dominated by the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM; 4G-11A-15P.), Markus Granlund (CGY; 5G-7A-12P), Johnny Gaudreau (CGY; 7G-2A-9P), and Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA; 3G-6A-9P), all of whom played between six and seven games.

You’ll see that Anaheim’s John Gibson, he of the now-famous Darryl Sutter-ism that had at least a few people thinking, “was he serious?”, completely dominated the tournament, posting a remarkable .955 save percentage, a full 0.5% more than the next goalie, Tampa Bay Lightning super-prospect Andrey Vasilevski. And you’ll even see the leadership on the gold medal winning team, led by future first rounder’s Seth Jones (NSH), Jacob Trouba (WPG), Connor Murphy (ARZ), and J.T. Miller (NYR).

What you won’t see–unless you look particularly close–is one Vincent Trocheck. Despite not garnering the clout that his peers did in the tournament, Trocheck put up a more-than respectable six points (3G-3A-6P) in seven games, including an empty net goal and an assist in the gold medal game. While Trocheck lacked the size and accolades of his peers, it was readily apparent–a year-and-a-half later–that Trocheck used the experience in Ufa as a launching pad for his career.

After the Pittsburgh, PA native returned from Russia, he was traded from the Saginaw Spirit to the Plymouth Whalers, where he went on to score 26 goals to go along with 33 assists in 28 games. He finished the season by leading the OHL in points with 109 total (50G-59A-109P).

As Trocheck did with the World Juniors, he used the culmination of his amateur career as a stepping stone into the pros. Slated to play the season in San Antonio with the Rampage, Trocheck did nothing but impress, leading the team with 42 points (12G-26A) in 55 games. What sets Trocheck apart from his peers is his instincts: he uses tremendous hockey IQ and vision to hit the open man, while his agility makes up for his lack of top-end speed, allowing him to set-up in the right place at the right time.

What really made Trocheck’s first season as a professional stand out was the way that he played following the trade of Marcel Goc. Eliminated from playoff contention, the Panthers brought Trocheck up from the minors. In his 20 game audition, Trocheck shined, scoring five goals to go with his three assists, while leading the Panther forwards with 18:53 of ice time per game.

Heading into his second professional season, Trocheck puts the Panthers in an intriguing situation. Combining his roster friendly two-way contract leaving him waiver ineligible, the signing of veteran centers Dave Bolland and Derek MacKenzie, and the NHL experience of Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Drew Shore, Trocheck looks likely to bounce back and forth between San Antonio and Sunrise.

Moving forward, Trocheck’s versatility will be key; while conventional scouting wisdom might declare Trocheck NHL ready, the logjam at center remains apparent. Being able to play on the wing, and in different roles–whether that be on an energy line, on special teams, or just five-on-five–aren’t so much bonuses anymore, but rather necessities needed to crack an NHL roster.

Coming off his fourth development camp, Trocheck established himself as the clear-cut leader amongst those in attendance, something management was clearly looking for out of the 21-year-old. Since before he was drafted 64th overall in 2011, Trocheck was championed for having IT, a sports terminology that, in essence, means he’s not big enough and not strong enough, but does the little things that are required out of a truly good player. His hockey IQ, his agility, and his knack for setting-up teammates to score give him the edge over the streaky forward and the puck moving defenseman.

Regardless of when it happens, Vincent Trocheck will force himself into the Florida Panthers lineup. Maybe he can use his fourth and final rookie camp as a springboard into his second professional season.

Panthers Sign 2012 Third-Round Pick Steven Hodges

Sunday evening, the Florida Panthers announced their 5th prospect signing of the off-season, inking center Steven Hodges to an entry-level deal. Hodges, 20, was selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.

The gritty centerman has spent the last 5 seasons with both the Chilliwack Bruins and the Victoria Royals of the WHL. This year, although plagued with injuries, Hodges managed to tally an impressive 47 points in 52 regular season games. Adding to this impressive feat, Hodges lead all skaters on the Royals in playoff points with 10 points (4g-6a) in 9 games.

Hockey’s Future Talent Analysis on Steven Hodge’s:

“Hodges is an excellent skater who has shown a nose for the net and has some grit to his game. He has a high hockey IG and makes solid reads at both ends of the ice. At this stage, Hodges appears to be a candidate for second- or third-line duty, assuming he improves his two-way play. Hodges added height and weight last season and now stands at 6’0 and 175 pounds but he will have to get stronger in order to be effective at higher levels of hockey.”

In adding more depth at center, the middle of the ice for Florida and San Antonio is starting to take shape. Both Panthers’ and Rampage fans can take solace in knowing that Hodges, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Brandon Pirri, Drew Shore, Ryan Martindale, Vincent Trocheck and Rocco Grimaldi will make up a strong centering core for years to come.

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

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Drew Shore Dazzles Hockey World in Belarus

                                               fortunecookie

Drew Shore thought it was a bit odd when he received the above fortune cookie at Belarus’ lone Chinese dining establishment last night, but that didn’t stop him from fulfilling said prophecy.

Warning: The goal you are about to watch may cause heavy breathing, loss of consciousness and in the case of German defender Constnatin Braun: death.

shore

Need a minute? Need to sit down? Need to reflect upon your existence? Go ahead, I have time.

Drew Shore ladies and gentlemen.

Despite a thrilling Stanley Cup Playoffs and obtaining the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft it’s been a long off-season for Panthers fans so let’s talk about this goal in frame by frame detail.

  • Shore bears down on Braun from the leftwing looking to the right side with his stick elongated in an attempt to lure the defender to play the pass.
  • Braun bites as he has no chance as Shore dips his shoulder and brings the puck between his legs, past a helpless Braun, to his backhand. (note how Braun doesn’t even have time to get his stick in position. He tries to interrupt Shore’s deke with an outstretched knee)
  • Shore then drives the net as German goalie Danny aus den Birken prepares for a poke check.
  • Shore reads it all the way by switching to his forehand, evading the pokecheck, and sliding the puck 5 hole.
  • Shore scores a really, really, really nice goal.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I look forward to Shore performing feats like that in Sunrise.

Credit to @myregularface for the GIF

From the Outside Looking In

What do you call a Snowbird that just never goes back up north? Smart?

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “Snowbird” is someone from a cold climate that migrates south for the winter only returning home when the weather gets bearable again.

As a born and raised Montrealer, every winter I would do what pretty much everyone else on the island does: Go to Florida for Winter Vacation. And so I did, for 25 consecutive years. I’d hop on the snowbird express and spend 2 weeks in South Florida. As the years went on and when I was able to plan the trip myself and not conform to my parents’ itinerary, I thought it would be pretty cool to see the Montreal Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers in Sunrise.  So, for many years I would join my fellow Montrealers from Surfside, Bal Harbor, Sunny Isles, Hallandale, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Boca, and Deerfield, and venture West away from the beach for an evening of Habs hockey.

We’d come in, be obnoxious, chant “Olé Olé Olé” and make Panthers fans wish we got stopped at the border.

This isn’t going to be a piece about Habs fans or a piece about the Habs, actually this is probably the last you’ll hear about the Habs from me on this site.

This is going to be a piece about what a Montrealer, who is a frequent flyer to South Florida, has learned about the Florida Panthers and where they’ve been, who they are and where they’re going.

On top of coming down every Winter, I’d also be in Florida 5-6 times per year so I know what it’s like down here. I know the market, I know the fan base, and I know the intricacies and complications that the Panthers face on a day-to-day basis because I lived on the opposite side of the fence my entire life.

The biggest thing that I took away from my frequent visits to Sunrise was that while the Panthers fan base isn’t large by definition, it is proud and passionate. Very passionate.

So before we get into this, a tip of the hat to the Cat fans out there who bleed red and show up when everyone expects you not to.

Now onto the Panthers.

Pleading for patience is something that I’m sure you all have heard countless times. Patient is probably the last thing you want to be as Panthers fans. You have been patient for years. You’ve been waiting for a stable contender since the Stanley Cup run of 96, and who is to blame you for wanting to win?

I’m sure you’ve heard the “this time it will be different” line before, but this time, THIS time will actually be different.

Why will it be different this time?

Because of Vincent Viola. For as long as I can remember the Panthers have separated Hockey and Business. For some reason the two couldn’t coincide. They’d ice the team and put on the promotions and try to fill the rink however they could. With Viola, I think the Panthers’ brass know that Hockey IS the business. Viola is letting his Hockey Operations department spend to the cap. This alone makes all the difference. You have to give yourself the best chance to win, and using finance to do that is part of playing in the NHL.

Viola understands that if you build it, they will come and he’s letting his team…build it.

I’ll ask again: Why will it be different this time?

Because of Dale Tallon. In the off-season of 2011 he went on a signing spree and inked players who are now part of the Panthers core. Players like Bergenheim, Fleischmann, Kopecky, Upshall and Campbell are cemented in the “We See Red” movement and are ideal pieces in putting a winning team together. Fast forward to this year’s free agency, he brought in Brad Boyes and steal of the season Tom Gilbert, who are the players you want on your team if you’re going to build a winner.

Oh and then there’s the recent acquisition of one Roberto Luongo.

Luongo is the first time Tallon employed the combination of business and Hockey in a transaction since the start of the new regime. It didn’t take long. What I alluded to earlier is exemplified perfectly in Roberto Luongo. He’s a fan favourite, he’ll bring fans in, and he’ll help the team win. Business and Hockey.

Luongo is an elite NHL goaltender who will give his team a chance to win every night. That is the bare minimum for a goalie and that (and more) is what he’s going bring to the table for the next few years.

The Panthers are in more than capable hands with Tallon, that much is clear. He has a plan and is sticking to it and isn’t afraid to be patient in order to achieve his goal. He’s building his team the right way.

So again: Why will it be different this time?

Because of Peter Horachek. Horachek spent 10 seasons in Nashville under Barry Trotz, the model of consistency in the NHL. If there’s one thing you want from a Panthers’ coach its consistency. Horachek brought in his philosophy of hard work, discipline, responsibility and skill to his team that has undoubtedly benefitted from this mantra. The team went from 3-9-4 or 3-13 before Horachek to 21-23-3 when he was brought in. The basic record alone shows a massive improvement in play.

Beyond the record, you can tell that by watching the games the Panthers are a “never say die” team. They don’t coast, they don’t watch, they play to the whistle and to the final buzzer. Its cliché, but it’s true. Horachek learned in Nashville that stability, strong team defense and team perseverance can go a long way to making waves in the league. Add a roster with more raw talent than he had in Nashville, and watch the sparks fly.

One more time: Why will it be different this time?

Because of the youth.

Oh boy, the youth.

The core. Barkov, Huberdeau, Kulikov, Gudbranson and Bjugstad. All players with off the charts high-end talent. All players who are growing and will continue to grow with the Panthers as the team joins the league’s elite.

Outside of that core? A crop of supremely talented, unheralded young players who you’ll fall in love with quickly. Brandon Pirri, Vincent Trocheck, Dylan Olsen, Drew Shore, Quinton Howden, Colby Robak and my personal favorite, Jimmy Hayes. This group may not have the high-end talent possessed by a Huberdeau or a Barkov, but they’re young, learning and will surprise us all.

On top of all of this? The players who aren’t pros. Among many, Ian McCoshen, Rocco Grimaldi and Mike Matheson will play NHL Hockey and lucky us they’ll be doing it with the Panthers.

These players will grow together, not just as players but as people, as professionals. That’s how a team wins and that’s how a team keeps winning.

It’s a slow burn but the train is on the right set of tracks. It just needs time to gain momentum.

So that’s what I’ve learned, from the outside looking in as a transplant Floridian with a passion for Hockey.

The Florida Panthers aren’t there yet.

But that’s a big, big “yet.”

Go Cats Go

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeObrand

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Jimmy Hayes Carving Out a Niche in Panthers Offense

In sports, there is nothing worse than an obstructed view.

Whether it’s a poorly designed arena or oversized fans, few things compare to the pains of struggling to catch a glimpse of the action right in front of you.

For NHL goalies, this pain has become all to real as Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes and his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame have made life in the crease a lot more crowded for opponent’s netminders in recent games.

Jimmy Hayes (Kelsey Hinds @kelsey1344)

Jimmy Hayes (Kelsey Hinds @kelsey1344)

Following the team’s return from the Winter Olympic break, Panthers head coach Peter Horachek made it clear to Hayes that his ticket to more ice time would be earned in the trenches.

“I said this is where you’re going to make your mark,” said Horachek. “You’re going to be a big guy who’s hard to move.”

Arriving in an early season trade that sent forward Kris Versteeg to Chicago, Hayes has already set a new career-high goal total with seven and tied his career-high point total with nine. Additionally, his 19.4 shooting percentage is good enough for second on the team, just behind forward Drew Shore (27.8%).

“I’ve got to continue to be a big forward and that’s where I’m going to be successful,” Hayes said of his role with the Panthers. “I’ve got to be around the net and pound as many pucks in as I can in front of that crease.”

With two greasy goals in front of the net in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the visiting Boston Bruins, Hayes, 24, not only earned his first NHL multi-goal game, but was also rewarded with a season-high 16:21 TOI against his hometown team. A Boston native who grew up just minutes from the TD Garden, Hayes became a household name in Beantown after helping Boston College bring home a NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship in 2010.

“He’s playing limited minutes and he’s getting some time on the power play, but he hangs around the net and he’s wiling to go there and be there,” said Horachek.  “He’s around the right place at the right time and we need more of that.”

Looking ahead, Horachek will have to continue to rely on ugly, hard fought goals in the crease as his very inexperienced Panthers squad will look to stay competitive while playing against the NHL’s best defenses for the remainder of the 2013-14 regular season.

“I don’t think we’re going to score all our goals going down the stretch on the rush, so we’re going to have to be more diligent about going to the net,” said Horachek. “Getting those second chances, putting more screens, second opportunities and tips. That’s where the goals are going to be scored.”

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

Follow Jameson on Twitter @JamesonCoop

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Aleksander Barkov Ready to Return to Struggling Panthers; Drew Shore Loaned to San Antonio

The Florida Panthers announced that rookie phenom Aleksander Barkov has been removed from IR, which likely indicates his return tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets after being sidelined with a knee injury, which he battered against the Buffalo Sabres on January 21st.

Yesterday, the Panthers held an optional skate at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, where Barkov joined his team for the first time since sustaining his injury. Barkov told the Sun-Sentinel that he was ready to play, but the decision ultimately comes down to the interim head coach, Peter Horachek.

[Read more...]

Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Sabres. Don’t Run Back Inside

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 19-23-7 (45 PTS.) vs. BUFFALO SABRES: 13-27-7 (33 PTS.)

TSN GAMEDAY

GAME DAY SONG: Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Florida Panthers complete their quick three game road trip tonight with the second of back to back games against the Buffalo Sabres.  The Panthers are coming off an emotional victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, ending the Penguins 13 game home winning streak by simply out playing the Pens in every facet of the game.

The Panthers came out flying in the first 10 minutes giving goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury a taste of what was to come the entire night.  The forecheck was aggressive, the shots were more accurate, and guess what?  The net presence and pysicality was noticeable.  While the Panthers continued their power play futility, their first goal was scored on a short handed opportunity late in the first period by Drew Shore who buried a shot past Fleury as the Panthers were on an odd man rush, catching the Penguins by surprise.  Shore would later score his second goal of the game at 13:34 of the middle period giving the Panthers a two goal cushion.

The victory was one of the most complete games that the Panthers have played all season, and the scoring finally came from players who haven’t contributed in quite some time, namely Shawn Matthias who scored his 5th goal of the year to make it 5-1 late in the third.  Jonathan Huberdeau also got off the schnied scoring a controversial goal in the third which was under review for what seemed to be 10 minutes.  Huberdeau was in a scrum in the crease, ended up in the net himself, as did the puck.  Finally a goal that was reviewed went the Panthers way.

[Read more...]

Drew Shore Continues to Shine As Panthers Fourth-Line Shuffle Continues

Drew Shore admittedly “took it very hard” when the Panthers sent him back to the AHL after a two-game stint in the NHL at the start of this season. Now, several months later, the 22-year-old forward has returned to the big club with a chip on his shoulder and begun to make life harder for opponents and their powerplay units.

A former 2nd round draft pick (44th overall) of the Panthers in 2009 out of the University of Denver, Shore tallied 13 points (3G-10A-13P) in 43 games with the Panthers last season as a rookie while anchoring the team’s lovable “kid line” alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller. No longer needed as the team’s top-line center thanks to the arrival of both Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, Shore has had to reinvent himself as one of the team’s best penalty killers.

Playing with a lack of job security that comes with a two-way contract, Shore still stands on shaky ground and is in a constant competition with forwards Jimmy Hayes, Shawn Matthias and Krys Barch for the team’s three spots on a crowded fourth-line. Luckily for Shore, his increased presence on the team’s penalty killing unit has begun to separate himself from his fourth-line brethren as the Panthers look to get back into the playoff race with the season already halfway over.

[Read more...]

Panthers Recall F Drew Shore and D Alex Petrovic

The Florida Panthers announced Friday morning that F Drew Shore and D Alex Petrovic have been recalled from the San Antonio Rampage, and will participate in this afternoon’s practice at the Saveology Iceplex in Coral Springs.

Petrovic, who was recalled for Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, was sent back to San Antonio following a tough 6-1 loss to the Bolts. However, after a gritty showing in which he led all Panthers’ skaters with eight total hits, the rugged blue-liner will get another shot to impress the coaching staff as the Panthers attempt to replace defenseman Erik Gudbranson who was recently placed on IR after undergoing successful orbital bone surgery this past week.

Just as he did against Tampa Bay, Petrovic is expected to slide right back into Gudbranson’s defensive position alongside Dylan Olsen as the Cats welcome the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.

Shore, who played in two games with the Panthers earlier this season, will likely start on Saturday night in place of injured forward, Scottie Upshall. Although Shore hasn’t been able to notch a goal this season with the Rampage, he has compiled 15  points in just 28 games while serving as a constant bright spot both offensively and defensively for the Panthers’ minor league affiliate.

Though they may only currently be filling in for injured teammates, both Petrovic and Shore will look to make a lasting impression on General Manager Dale Tallon and the Panthers organization as they  hope to be the next crop of Cats’ prospects to succeed at the NHL level.

[Read more...]

Panthers Sign C Scott Gomez

With the first month of free agency behind us, the Panthers have been quietly active re-signing RFAs Shawn Matthias, Jacob Markstrom, Scott Timmins, and Colby Robak, as well as adding UFAs Joey Crabb and Jesse Winchester to their depth chart. In addition to these signings, the Florida Panthers announced Wednesday afternoon that they inked long-time NHL center-man, Scott Gomez.

Scott Gomez is best known for his seven years with the New Jersey Devils where he appeared in 548 games, tallying an impressive 450 points with the club, winning the Calder Trophy his rookie year, as well as two Stanley cups. Aside from his stellar years in New Jersey, the Anchorage Alaskan native also made his mark in the two seasons he spent on Broadway with the New York Rangers before being traded to the Montreal Canadians. The Canadians only saw one solid year from Gomez before his numbers dipped dramatically over the next two seasons, which resulted in the Habs buying him out of the remaining two years he had left on his $51.5 million contract. The following season, the UFA signed a one year deal worth $700,000 with the San Jose Sharks. In 39 games with the west coast franchise, Gomez tallied a respectable 15 points.

[Read more...]

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