by Alyssa Dombrowski || for NHL.com
It’s been a whirlwind week for 20-year-old Vincent Trocheck. The rookie forward with the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage received his first recall to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, just after the NHL’s trade deadline had passed.
“It’s been crazy,” said Trocheck. “It’s obviously what I’ve been working for my whole life. Getting the call was surreal, and I couldn’t be more excited to be here.”
Expected to make his NHL debut Friday in Sunrise against the Buffalo Sabres, Trocheck began his path to professional hockey long before arriving in the Sunshine State. He hails from Pittsburgh, Pa., and was born a year after the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.
“Growing up in Pittsburgh was a great influence,” said Trocheck. “The Penguins were doing really well whenever I was young, so that kind of got me into hockey and it all started there.”
Trocheck, who was selected by the Panthers in the third round (64th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft, spent four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with Saginaw and Plymouth. Last season he tallied 109 points to earn the league’s top scorer honors and the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player – an award won previously by Tyler Seguin, John Tavares and Corey Perry, among others.
The 5-foot-10 center also captured a gold medal representing the United States at the 2013 World Junior Championships, tallying three goals and three assists in seven games during the tournament.
Trocheck’s decorated hockey resume made for a smooth shift to the pros when he joined the Rampage at the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
“I moved away at a young age, so I kind of got used to the whole being-away-from-home thing,” said Trocheck. “We have a really good group of guys in San Antonio, so they made the off-ice transition pretty easy.
“On the ice, it was just different coming in. Everybody was bigger. I heard before I got here that the speed would be the biggest thing, but I didn’t see much of that as a problem to transition.”
Former NHL player and coach Tom Rowe, who took over as head coach in San Antonio when Peter Horachek was promoted to Florida in November, has overseen Trocheck’s development in the AHL leading up to his first NHL recall.
“What we like about him is his competitiveness,” said Rowe. “He comes to the rink every day and loves playing, and he’s a rink rat – he’s here morning, noon and night.
“Vince is not afraid of the physical side of things. He sticks his nose into the traffic areas, and obviously his skill and the way he can set up plays [are what make him special]. For a first-year guy, he’s probably adapted to pro hockey as quick as anybody that I’ve coached in the American League.”
Trocheck has recorded 16 goals and 25 assists for 41 points in 54 games with San Antonio this season, leading all Rampage skaters and ranking in the top 10 among AHL rookies. Rowe recognizes the motivation behind the forward’s impressive numbers.
“He wants to be in pressure situations,” Rowe said. “He wants the puck when the game is on the line, which is a real good trait to have, and I think that’s what drives him.
“The thing that has always impressed me is how good he wants to be – how he will compete for loose pucks, take hits and hit guys … a lot of skilled guys don’t necessarily do that stuff.”
Trocheck’s explanation of his thought process on the ice is simple.
“I just try to stay even-keeled and focus on playing my game, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” said Trocheck.
He credits the cohesiveness within the organization that drafted him for the success he’s had so far, and trusts that it will continue to help shape his future accomplishments.
“It’s a great organization in Florida and they pride themselves on having good character, which is huge,” Trocheck said. “In San Antonio, we have a great staff. Tom Rowe has done a great job since he’s come in, and he’s really great for teaching young guys.
“There are things that [the Panthers] want me to improve on, and that’s what I’ve been working on [in San Antonio]. Tom has gone through everything they tell him I need to improve on, and he relays it back to me and helps me on it.”
Barely five months into his pro career, Trocheck is poised to take his talents to the next level, according to his coach.
“He’s way ahead of the curve when it comes to his dry-land training and his preparation before practice and games,” Rowe said. “He’s in the gym stretching and doing the proper things before we go on the ice. Off-ice, I’ve never had a young kid be as prepared as he has been in his first year.”
The same sentiment echoes when the young forward takes the ice.
“He’s got NHL hands,” said Rowe. “He can move the puck and beat guys one-on-one in tight areas that a lot of guys can’t, so that part of his game is definitely at a very high level.”
It’s clear that Trocheck has impressed the Panthers organization with his adjustment to the AHL. He gets the chance to take the next step tonight.