Vincent Trocheck has been back in Sunrise a number of times since the Panthers traded him in 2020, but for the New York Rangers center, it is always a bittersweet return.
South Florida is where Trocheck developed into a bonafide NHL star, where he had his first two 20-goal seasons before getting 31 in 2018-19.
A year later, he was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Trocheck, one of the top non-first round draft picks in franchise history, never wanted to leave the Panthers.
Hockey being the business that it is, things do not always work out the way you want them to.
For Trocheck, however, life has gone on.
And he is thriving with the Rangers.
After leaving Florida, Trocheck found first found success with the Hurricanes and now he is finding it in New York.
Trocheck earned himself the security of a seven-year $39 million contract with the Rangers, with a no-movement clause for the first three years and modified no-trade clauses for the remainder.
As a New Yorker who spent many nights in the raucous confines of Madison Square Garden, I can attest that Trocheck’s hustling style of play makes Trocheck a fan favorite there, just as he was in Florida.
Trocheck has eight goals and 29 points so far, a pace consistent with his best season in Florida (2017-18) when he not only scored 31 goals, but had a career-high 44 assists for 75 points.
This year, the third-round pick in 2011 has seven multi-point games. The Rangers are 7-0 in those games.
Centering a line flanked by superstar Artemi Panarin and the slick young Alexis Lafreniere has helped all three.
Trocheck is among the league leaders in faceoff wins at 63.3 percent. As a team, the Rangers are tied with Pittsburgh for first in the NHL in faceoff wins at 54.7 percent.
Panarin has benefitted from Trocheck’s faceoff prowess and is on a scoring pace to break 100 points for the first time in his career.
The Rangers have been one of the surprises of the NHL this season.
Like Florida, they have had to deal with significant injuries.
The loss of premier defender Adam Fox could have been devastating, but during his absence, the team went 7-2-0.
Likewise, Jonathan Quick stepped up when Igor Shesterkin suffered a string of minor injuries and could be in net against the Panthers tonight.
Quick may be this year’s top reclamation project. He is 9-1-1 with a GAA of 2.27 and a .920 save percentage.
At age 37, his stats this season are superior to his career average.
The Rangers come to Florida with a Conference-leading plus-23 goal differential (fifth in the NHL) and sit atop the Eastern Conference, with a win percentage second only to Vancouver in the NHL standings.
They are on a hot streak, with five wins in their last six games.
Their 31.1 percent power play ranks them first in that category in the NHL. At 86.0 percent, the PK is third-best. With these special team numbers, the Panthers will have their work cut out for them tonight.
As for the trade which sent Trocheck to Carolina, it was a surprising move at the time.
The Panthers struggled out of the All-Star break and were not living up to high expectations which came from an offseason spending spree — the highlight of which was signing Sergei Bobrovsky to what was then the biggest contract the Panthers had ever doled out.
General manager Dale Tallon was feeling some heat and, with the approval of coach Joel Quenneville, decided to shake things up and traded Trocheck to Carolina for four players.
The Panthers ended up moving on from Tallon when that season finally ended in August; Quenneville resigned under pressure over a year later.
Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark did not leave much of a dent during their time in Florida although prospect Chase Priskie did become the first South Florida product to ever suit up for his hometown team in 2021.
The only asset remaining from that trade is Eetu Luostarinen.
Thanks to Tallon’s foresight, at least the trade was far from a total loss as Luostarinen — the one player almost no one in South Florida had ever heard of at the time — has evolved into a very strong two-way forward.
There should be plenty of excitement with so many transplanted and visiting New Yorkers in the house tonight.
NEW YORK RANGERS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
- Last Season: Rangers won 3-0
- This Season — At Florida: Friday. At MSG: March 4; March 24.
- All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 60-32-8, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m.