Despite sinking to seventh place in the Atlantic Division with a 6-7-3 record following Thursday’s loss to Buffalo, the Florida Panthers still have plenty to feel good about. Especially the performance of forwards Derek MacKenzie and Vincent Trocheck.
Centering the team’s fourth line, MacKenzie leads the team in plus-minus, with a plus-7 rating, and in the faceoff circle, where he’s won 54.2 per cent of draws. He has five points through 16 games and ranks among the Panthers’ best in hits and takeaways. However, MacKenzie’s most valuable contributions are perhaps less quantifiable. He has managed to keep plays alive in the offensive zone on a nightly basis and infuses the Cats with energy when they need it most. Moreover, he’s accomplished these feats while cycling through different linemates that have so far included: Quinton Howden, Connor Brickley, Shawn Thornton, and Garrett Wilson.
“I’ve been here probably 35 games and I love the way Mack plays,” Panthers RW Jaromir Jagr told Harvey Fialkov of the SunSentinel. “The way he hustles and is so effective on every shift, skating hard, no matter how many minutes he played. That [fourth] line are a plus; they scored some important goals this year so they’re not only fighting or playing good defense, they’re a big boost for us.”
The Panthers are also receiving a big boost from the play of 22 year-old Vincent Trocheck. In the first 16 games of the season, Trocheck registered seven goals and five assists, placing him just one point shy of tying Jagr for the team lead in point production. He has responded to the increased responsibility of powerplay time with six powerplay points (three goals, three assists) and boasts a scorching hot 25.9 shooting percentage.
More impressively, Trocheck has posted these offensive numbers despite ranking 14th in the average number of shifts per game, and ranking 13th in average ice time. It doesn’t hurt that more often than not, when he’s on the ice, the Panthers have the puck. According to hockey-reference.com, Trocheck’s Corsi For Percentage in all situations is 55.1.
“When he has the puck, he makes the right plays and when he doesn’t, the puck seems to follow him around; he’s in the right place. So when there’s a turnover, he can either set it up or get a good scoring opportunity,” FOX Sports commentator Randy Moller told viewers following a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on October 27.
Trocheck continued the trend last night by adding a helper on the Panthers’ first goal in their 5-4 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His production will continue to be an important part of filling the void left while the team waits for Aleksander Barkov to return to ‘fully operational’ status. Similarly, MacKenzie may be key to minimizing opponents’ scoring chances if defenseman Dmitry Kulikov misses any time with the ‘lower-body injury’ sustained in the win over Tampa.
A graduate student at the University of Victoria and Editor in Chief of The Graduate History Review, Noah E. Miller has covered the Florida Panthers as a Contributor for The Hockey Writers since 2015.