The Panthers took the 2015-16 team picture Wednesday morning as captain Willie Mitchell and injured center Dave Bolland were on the BB&T Center ice in their red game sweaters for the first time in months.
Vincent Trocheck was there as well, yet had to be helped onto the ice as one foot was wrapped in a hard cast after he fractured a bone blocking a shot Tuesday night.
Trocheck, 22, is expected to be in the cast at least 10 days and he will be evaluated after that.
The Panthers’ rising star — Trocheck is tied for the team lead with 25 goals — will likely miss Florida’s final six regular season games but the team hopes he won’t be out much longer than that. Trocheckreportedly sustained a similar injury to those of Derek MacKenzie and Erik Gudbranson, who have taken over two weeks to heal.
Like Trocheck, MacKenzie and Gudbranson were hurt blocking shots. Both could be back Thursday against the New Jersey Devils.
“[Trocheck] will be out for the rest of the regular season, which is about 10 days and then they’ll readjust,” coach Gerard Gallant said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing. It’s week-to-week. Hopefully we have him back for the playoffs — we have to make the playoffs first. It looks bad because he has a cast on it, but they do that so he doesn’t put any weight on it. He’s in there working out already. He’s a competitive kid, pounding the weights and getting ready for the playoffs.”
Trocheck took shots off one leg in consecutive games last week at Boston and Tampa Bay, yet Tuesday’s injury was due to a hit on his other leg while working a penalty kill.
Nick Bjugstad moved up to replace Trocheck on Florida’s second line, where he will center Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen, and will continue playing there Thursday.
Jokinen, Smith and Trocheck combined for 17 goals and 41 points in March; the Panthers expect Bjugstad to keep things going.
“Trocheck is a tough guy to replace right now, he’s having a great season,” Bjugstad said. “I have to find a way to play with these guys. They’re skilled guys, so I have no excuse. Trocheck sold out for the team there, [got hurt] making a big play. I have nothing for respect for him. It’s tough seeing him out.”
Said Gallant: “Bjugstad is one of our young stars and hopefully he’ll go in there and play real well. He kind of got pushed into that third line a little bit but he’s one of our stars. He carried our team for two months last year. We expect the same. We signed him to a six-year deal and we love him.”
The Panthers brought up Rocco Grimaldi from their AHL team in Portland, Maine, with the thought he will center Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell.
“He’s going to get a great opportunity,” Gallant said. “He’s a skilled guy who is real quick and played some good games for us earlier in the year... Rocco is a dangerous hockey player, has scored a lot of goals in his career and is a good, young player. He’s going to get the opportunity to play some center ice and that’s the position he likes to play. It’s a great chance for him.”
If MacKenzie is able to play Thursday, he’ll likely retake his spot on the fourth line. Gallant said decisions on MacKenzie and Gudbranson will be made following Thursday’s morning skate.
“I don’t want to push guys,” Gallant said. “I want to make sure they’re ready. If they are? Fine. If they want another couple days, whatever it takes, that’s great, too.”
▪ The Panthers will be giving away commemorative rubber rats to the first 10,000 fans Thursday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
During that year, fans at Miami Arena tossed rubber rats onto the ice following goals (a practice soon outlawed by the league) after Scott Mellanby scored two goals after killing a rat with his stick in the locker room on opening night.
The Panthers hope fans keep these rats as souvenirs as they say ‘Year of the Rat 1995-96’ printed on them.
▪ Center Greg McKegg scored his first NHL goal Tuesday against a Maple Leafs team he once dreamed of being a regular for. Last summer, Florida acquired McKegg from Toronto in exchange for prospect Zach Hyman — who made his NHL debut with the Leafs earlier this season.
“Obviously it was a real special moment,” said McKegg, who was a third round pick by Toronto in 2010 and spent parts of four seasons in the Leafs’ organization. “It’s a dream come true.”
Thursday: Devils at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210
Series: New Jersey leads 52-29-7
Scouting report: The Devils continue to fight for a playoff spot and came into Wednesday five points back of the final spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida is 1-1 against the Devils this year with both games played in Newark.