The Florida Panthers came out flat against one of the league’s worst teams Tuesday night at home in Sunrise, losing 5-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But, it was the loss of second line centre Vincent Trocheck that could prove to be the most significant result.
Word on Wednesday morning was that Trocheck is out “week to week” with a broken foot after blocking a shot and, as Jaromir Jagr told the Miami Herald, the team will miss him dearly.
“He was our best player for a long time, so that’s tough,” Jagr said. “Not only did we lose a game but we lost one of our best players. Hopefully someone will step up. That line had been playing so well.”
Trocheck was seen in a cast Wednesday morning so the prognosis looks pretty grim with the Panthers hoping he can return in time for the playoffs starting in mid-April. A return for the first round would seem highly unlikely at this point.
Who Will Step Up In Trocheck’s Absence?
Prior to Trocheck’s amazing ascendance to the second line centre spot, Nick Bjugstad was filling that role. Bjugstad has also missed 15 games due to injury this season but has been generally good, scoring at a .5 PPG pace.
Bjugstad did manage a 24 goal season in 2014/15 so he may be able to replace most, if not all, of Trocheck’s second line production, if given the minutes on the second line but head coach Gerad Gallant has some other appealing options.
Diminutive centre Rocco Grimaldi has played 14 games this season for the Cats but has only netted one goal and one assist in those appearances so perhaps playing him that high in the lineup is a stretch.
Another option is recently acquired forward Jiri Hudler, who can play both centre and wing, and I imagine Gallant is very happy that GM Dale Tallon added Hudler and RW Teddy Purcell at the trade deadline to give him some forward depth heading into the playoffs.
The loss of Trocheck who, realistically, may not be ready for the first round of the playoffs will undoubtedly hurt down the stretch as the Panthers try to win the Atlantic Division title but there is some good news this week too.
Fourth line centre Derek McKenzie and defenseman Erik Gudbranson are due to return from injury as early as Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils so, perhaps the loss of Trocheck will be mitigated to some extent by those events.
But the Panthers can’t afford any more substandard efforts in their remaining six games if they hope to seize the division crown and avoid a first round matchup against, likely, the Boston Bruins.