CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Panthers desperately need a boost, and Vincent Trocheck has pronounced himself ready to provide one.
Barely eight weeks removed from surgery to repair the right ankle that he fractured by crashing into the boards during a game at Ottawa, Trocheck took part in a full practice Thursday for the first time since the injury happened. He’s been back on the ice for the last couple weeks, limited to either working out either on his own or with a small group.
”I’ve been pushing to play for the last couple weeks,” Trocheck said. ”So I don’t think it’s up to me at this point. It’s just a matter of whenever they give me the go-ahead. When I get back out there, it’ll be 100 percent me. Whenever they give me the go, I’ll be ready.”
He’ll likely miss only three more games before returning. The Panthers play Friday against Toronto, Saturday against Nashville and Monday against San Jose. The All-Star break follows that stretch, and when Florida resumes play on Feb. 1 it seems that barring a setback Trocheck will be back in the lineup.
”The doctors have basically said his healing process is back to where it should be, his cardio is back to where it should be, he’s ready to play as of right now,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. ”But we’re going to do the smart thing, obviously, and not rush him back until after the break. If it was Game 7 tonight, he’d be in.”
Trocheck had a series of checkmarks to hit before reaching this point. The first step was getting his cast removed after surgery, followed by having the ability to walk again, then some strength-building, then getting skates on and stepping back onto the ice. All that remains on the list now is suiting up for games.
”It was tough to see him go out,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. ”But it’s nice to have him back.”
Trocheck can’t get back soon enough for Florida, which is facing a long road back into the playoff picture.
The Panthers have lost seven consecutive games, their longest slide since dropping nine straight early in the 2013-14 season. They started Thursday 14 points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and even with roughly half the season left – 37 of their 82 games – they are, at best, highly doubtful to make a postseason appearance.
”I’m sure you can imagine, it’s been tough to watch,” Trocheck said. ”Win or lose, I want to be on the ice. It’s a matter of me wanting to be out there. It’s been a tough couple months.”