The reeling Panthers, losers of seven straight, got a bit of good news Thursday: Center Vincent Trocheck practiced with the full team for the first time since he broke his right ankle Nov. 19 (per NHL.com).
The team’s second-leading scorer last season, Trocheck, 25, has missed 27 games, but coach Bob Boughner says Trocheck could return when the Panthers host the Predators on Feb. 1 in their first game after the All-Star break.
Trocheck, who had NHL career highs in goals (31), assists (44) and points (75) last season, has three goals and 11 assists in 18 games this season.
He has been on the ice for two weeks but Thursday marked his first time with his teammates.
“I think it was pretty important to just be around the guys,” he said. “I’ve been here for six years, and the majority of these guys, all these guys that have been here with me, are my best friends. They’re like my family. You take them away from me, it’s a little bit more difficult to go through the process of getting back.
“Being around them, in good times and in bad times, they’re definitely people that can lift me up and keep me on a positive track.”
Trocheck’s return could offer a lift to the Panthers, who have fallen 14 points back of a wild-card spot with five teams between them and the Penguins, who enter Friday’s play with 56 points as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s obviously frustrating whenever you have to watch and it’s not going the way we want it to go and I can’t be out there to help,” said Trocheck, who has 226 points (94 goals, 132 assists) in 328 games with the Panthers. “I mean who knows how big of a help I’d be, but any time a time like this is going on, I want to be out there and do as much as I can to help.”
The Panthers (17-20-8) have home games Friday (Maple Leafs) and Monday (Sharks) sandwiched around a trip to Nashville on Saturday heading into the break.