It was three weeks ago that Vincent Trocheck weaved his way down the ice and slipped a puck past Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rine to secure the Florida Panthers’ shootout road win on Oct. 19.
The Florida Panthers’ second-line center hasn’t played a game since. A lower-body injury sustained earlier in that game had sidelined Trocheck for the past seven games.
His time on the bench appears to be over.
Trocheck was a full participant in practice Friday, and coach Joel Quenneville said the expectation is to have Trocheck in the lineup as the Panthers (7-3-5) begin a three-game road trip Saturday against the New York Islanders (11-3-1). The road trip continues Sunday against the New York Rangers (7-6-1) and concludes Tuesday against the Boston Bruins (11-2-2).
“I feel pretty good,” Trocheck said. “It’s nice to get out there and practice with the boys and feel that competitiveness again. I’m going full speed again. It’s fun.”
Trocheck, who had a goal and five assists through eight games before the injury, anchored the Panthers’ second line along with wingers Brett Connolly and Mike Hoffman before being sidelined. The 26-year-old also plays a big part on the Panthers’ power-play and penalty-kill units.
He looks like he’ll resume those roles once he returns.
“He’s a competitive guy,” Quenneville said. “He brings energy. He plays in all situations. He’s a solid guy in the middle. He was playing well before he got hurt. He adds a lot to the mix.”
And it adds an extra weapon to the Panthers’ high-octane offense. Florida ranks third in the NHL with an average of 34.9 shots per game and is fifth with an average of 3.60 goals per game.
The high scoring has played a large role in the Panthers picking up points in 11 of their past 12 games and going 4-1-2 in Trocheck’s absence.
“They’ve been playing phenomenal hockey while I’ve been out,” Trocheck said. “Obviously, the streak they’re on is great, and I’ve been cheering for them the whole way. Any time you go down, you want to see your team play well and keep that momentum going for when you come back.”
With Trocheck on the verge of returning, Brian Boyle moved down from the second line to the fourth line in practice on Friday, centering Colton Sceviour and Dryden Hunt.
Usual fourth-line center Noel Acciari is unlikely to play this weekend while tending to a lower-body injury.