Another learning experience for Florida Panthers

 <span class="cutline_leadin">School in session:</span> Vincent Trocheck (67), who is 20, has played significant ice time as he tries to learn what it will take to be a successful NHL player.
School in session: Vincent Trocheck (67), who is 20, has played significant ice time as he tries to learn what it will take to be a successful NHL player.
J Pat Carter / AP

Thursday: Panthers at Lightning

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa.

TV/radio: FSNF; WSBR 740 AM.

The series: Florida leads 57-44-10.

Scouting report: The Lightning has lost five in a row, including the past two in shootouts. Tampa Bay will likely feel better about things following Thursday; the Bolts have beaten Florida in six of the past eight meetings.

Thursday brings another late-season active learning session for some of the Panthers’ young, this time in Tampa. These classes, taught by Panthers coach Peter Horachek, assisted by the Panthers veterans with visiting professors wearing the opposing jerseys, fill the March schedules of the NHL underclass.

In addition to the college age core on the Panthers roster all season, players such as 22-year-old center Brandon Pirri and 20-year-old center Vincent Trocheck get ice time for learning.

Pirri, acquired March 2 for two draft picks from Chicago, scored the Panthers’ lone goal in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Phoenix. The ice times for Trocheck, a third round 2011 draft pick of the Panthers, in the past three games, his first three in the NHL: 17 minutes 35 seconds, 22:27 and 20:03. That’s significant for any forward, much less one in his first three NHL games.

“These young guys are getting as much experience as they can,” Horachek said. “They’re playing against high-end players, the best players on the other team. They’re getting special-teams time and they have to make the most of it.

“What I’m trying to get them to do is be accountable on both sides,” he continued. “I know they have some good hands and have some skill. But you can’t win the game just by playing offense. The best offensive players compete on both sides of the puck. We are planning on winning. If they are part of that future, they’re going to be accountable on both sides of the puck. They can create offense. They have to be good in our end, good coming back into our zone. Good coming out of our zone and on the attacking side.”

Two of Pirri’s first three games for the Panthers came against Boston, the template team for this era: big and physical, with defense first, second and third.

Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Los Angeles, a similar team with better forechecking, won it in 2012. Boston came 1:16 from a Game 7 in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals when Chicago usurped the game with a pair of goals.

“Playing Boston twice in a few nights is a tough start for a young player,” Horachek said. “They’re big and they’re physical. They’re very good in their system, they’re very accountable to each other, they’re very patient and they play hard. They play defense first and they have offensive guys who can score goals. That’s why they’re one of the best teams in the East. That was a good lesson for him, too, so he can see what a good team looks like.”


• Horachek said Sean Bergenheim, who left Tuesday’s loss to Phoenix with a lower-body injury, won’t go on injured reserve but won’t make the trip to Tampa with the Panthers.

• The Panthers sent defenseman Mike Mottau down to San Antonio and recalled defenseman Alex Petrovic and forward Quinton Howden.

Read more Florida Panthers stories from the Miami Herald

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