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.