Hardcore Panthers fans already know how good rookie center Vincent Trocheck — who made his NHL debut in Friday’s 2-0 win over Buffalo — is supposed to be.
What they might not know about the 20-year-old who was leading the Panthers’ American Hockey League-affiliate San Antonio in scoring this season: The kid can sing — at least according to fellow center Nick Bjugstad.
Still without a car in South Florida since he got the call to the Panthers on Wednesday, Trocheck has been chauffeured around by Bjugstad. The two have bonded over the music they listen to in the car, and Bjugstad has since discovered Trocheck’s talent.
“We’ll listen to the new Katy Perry song,” says Bjugstad, referring to her hit single Dark Horse. “He can sing perfectly like Katy Perry.”
Bjugstad, who was in a similar situation as a newcomer late last season, adds that Trocheck has an uncanny ability to identify any song that comes on the radio.
Despite all his musical talent, the 5-10, 182-pound center, who plays more physical than his frame would have you believe, is with the Panthers for his speed, explosiveness and playmaking ability.
Trocheck, with several family members that flew into South Florida on Thursday present, played 17 minutes and took three shots on 25 shifts on Friday. Coach Peter Horachek already had high praise for him.
“I thought Vinnie was really good,” said Horachek, who coached him with the Rampage earlier this season. “He was a young player, stepped up, really competitive, smart, really good with the puck, good passer. I saw him playing the same way here.
“By the third period I thought I would be using him against the other team’s best line, so that’s a big step for a young player in his first game to give me that kind of confidence.”
The young scoring machine comes to the Panthers with high expectations. He was leading San Antonio in points with 41 (16 goals, 25 assists) in 54 games.
Before joining the Rampage at the commencement of this season, Trocheck led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring in 2012-13 with 109 points (50 goals, 59 assists), earning him the Red Tilson Trophy for the OHL’s most outstanding player and the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy for the league’s top scorer.
He doesn’t feel pressure to begin putting up comparable numbers in the NHL right away.
“Most goal scorers will tell you point producing is something you don’t want to focus too much on,” said Trocheck, originally drafted 64th overall in the third round of the 2011 draft. “Then you squeeze the stick too tight. You’ll get a little too nervous and you won’t be able to put the puck in the net.
“I’m kind of just trying to focus on the little things, go out there, play my game and do everything right.”
Trocheck played on the same line as veteran wings Scottie Upshall and Tomas Fleischmann. He said Upshall, like Bjugstad, has also been of great assistance in getting him acclimated.
Being from Pittsburgh, hockey has been etched into Trocheck since birth.
“The Penguins had just won the Cup when I was born, and that’s when everybody really started to pick up Pittsburgh hockey. That’s kind of how I got into the game,” he says. “Great influence with [Mario] Lemieux, [Jaromir] Jagr and [Sidney] Crosby growing up there. After that, I was already on a roll, kept going with hockey.”
After a well-rounded win against Buffalo, the team with the worst record in the NHL, Horachek is looking for some consistency when Florida hosts the Boston Bruins, leaders in the Atlantic Division and current No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, on Sunday.
“When you’re talking about how you played well against Buffalo, you have to play well against Boston. That’s where you tell,” Horachek says. “If we can have success against the best teams, you know you’re making steady progress.”
Help on the way
For the first time this season, the Panthers didn't have any healthy scratches on Friday.
That's because there was no one to scratch.
With all the trades, the Panthers are at the 20-man roster minimum. Teams can carry as many as 23 on their active roster and the Panthers had done that for much of the season. With Florida playing 19 games in the final 34 days, the Panthers will be adding players — likely defensemen Colby Roback and/or Alex Petrovic — in the coming days.