When the national hockey media talks about the Florida Panthers’ core group of young players, one usually gets overlooked.
While it’s easy to fixate on the likes of rising stars Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck sometimes slips through the cracks.
Those who sleep on Trocheck, however, do so at their own risk.
“He’s a big part of our team, and it’s not just the four or five people everyone talks about,’’ Florida coach Gerard Gallant said on Friday, a day after the 22-year-old Trocheck scored twice against Detroit.
“There are five or six other guys who are also very important. If we’re going to win, it’s not about three or four guys, you need a team. And [Trocheck] is a big part of that. He’s a good player, and we know he’s going to put up points. I see a guy working hard on both ends, playing a complete game.’’
Trocheck has most definitely come into his own in his second full NHL season since being drafted in the third round by the Panthers in 2011.
Last season, Trocheck scored seven goals in 50 games; on Thursday, in his 51st game of this season, he took the team lead with 17.
With five goals in his past four games, Trocheck — not Barkov or Jaromir Jagr — currently leads the Panthers in goals.
“I think experience has a lot to do with it; I’ve worked at a lot of different aspects to my game,” said Trocheck, a Pittsburgh native who faces his hometown Penguins on Saturday night.
“I’m focusing on the defensive side of the puck more and realize if you work hard on the defensive side, it will create more offense. You always want to improve, and I’ve worked on everything throughout the summer and year. I feel good about things. You don’t want to get too high or too low on yourself.’’
Trocheck is a restricted free agent after the season, and the team is working on a long-term contract extension with its second-line center.
Although Trocheck gives the standard “I’m only playing hockey” line when it comes to his contract, he makes it clear he wants to keep this thing going with the Panthers.
“I love it here in Florida, love the staff, love everyone in this locker room,’’ he said. “We have something special going on here, a lot of young guys. This could be a team that does well for a long time.”
Trocheck’s speed plays well on a line with two other fast players in Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith. Those two are also having stellar seasons.
“We have a lot of chemistry; I’ve played with Jokinen a lot over the years,’’ Trocheck said.
“Smith is someone who can play with anyone. He works hard, has a lot of skill. He can put the puck in the net whenever he pleases. We’ve clicked.”
Those three are playing so well, Gallant won’t designate either as his first line.
As far as he’s concerned, the Trocheck line as well as the more-publicized trio of Barkov, Huberdeau and Jagr are on equal footing.
“There are two lines which are the top lines to me,’’ Gallant said. “I like them both. We have some really good players. It’s a good problem to have.’’
▪ Roberto Luongo took Friday off to rest a bit but will start Saturday against the Penguins.
“He’s 100 percent,” Gallant said.
With Luongo absent, the Panthers pulled Bobby Segin out of their ticket office and put him between the pipes for practice.
A former goalie at UConn, Segin has been working on the Panthers’ sales team this season and plays in the organization’s morning hockey games at the arena.
Segin is a longtime family friend of Florida executive Peter Luukko and was noticed during those morning games by assistant coach John Madden, who got his information in case the Panthers needed him. On Friday, they did.
“This was a dream come true,” Segin said after a long workout. “I love playing hockey. ... I wasn’t nervous today; I knew it was going to be light. All the guys were great.”
Said Brandon Pirri: “You feel a little bad for the new guy sometimes, because you’re shooting a little higher and harder than you usually would without Luongo yelling at you. He held his own, did a good job.’’
▪ The Panthers, who have won five consecutive games, are expecting their seventh sellout of the season on Saturday. Last season, Florida sold out just five of 41 home games.
The Panthers’ average attendance of 14,620 is up almost 30 percent from last season, as they have moved from last in the league to 25th. The announced crowd of 20,289 on Jan. 2 against the Rangers is Florida’s biggest of the season and third-largest all-time.
▪ With Erik Gudbranson questionable for Saturday’s game, Florida called up 26-year-old Brent Regner from its AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Regner, the Pirates’ captain, was a fifth-round draft pick by Columbus in 2008 and has played in over 400 AHL games.
If Regner plays Saturday, it will be his NHL debut in what is his first NHL recall.
Gudbranson has apparently been bothered by something since getting hit last week against Toronto.
Saturday: Penguins at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV, radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210.
Series: Pittsburgh leads 44-35-4
Scouting report: After a slow start that cost coach Mike Johnston his job, the Penguins have moved into a playoff spot and had won four consecutive games heading into Friday's game in Tampa. Going into Friday, star Sidney Crosby had 11 goals and 18 points in his previous 12 games.