The Panthers have battled injuries at center all season long, and now after losing Vincent Trocheck for the remainder of the regular season, who will step up for the playoff-bound team?
Not only did the Florida Panthers drop two-points to the Toronto Maples Leafs on Tuesday, but they also lost the player that saved their team.
While killing a penalty, Vincent Trocheck stepped in front of P-A Parenteau slapshot and went down in pain immediately after he blocked it. Trocheck did not stay in the game for long, and is now reported to be out for the remainder of the season and wearing a cast in hopes of returning for the playoffs.
Slow mo of Trocheck blocked shot…off his right heel: pic.twitter.com/UiDN0tgZOu
— Cats on the Prowl (@Cats0ntheprowl) March 30, 2016
The Panthers, however, are no strangers to injured players. Going into Tuesday’s game, Trocheck was just one of three players to suit up in every game for the Panthers this year. Now with Trocheck out, the only players left holding that title are Reilly Smith and Brian Campbell.
Despite all of their injury woes, the Panthers still find themselves tied for first place in the Atlantic division. Considering the team has the phrase, “No Excuses” painted inside their locker room, it’s a safe bet that their most recent injury won’t be used as one as the team heads toward the playoffs.
So, who is expected to step up for the Cats for the remainder of the season?
The most obvious answer is Nick Bjugstad. The 6-6 center from Minnesota has shown over the past couple seasons that he can be a scoring force in the league. His ability to drive play and score big goals are what earned him a six-year, $24.6 million contract last season.
This season, however, Bjugstad has not been able to consistently contribute like he had in the past. After being shut down late last season because of a back injury, Bjugstad then had to battle through migraines this year. He missed a large chunk of games in November and December, thus losing his job on the second line to Trocheck.
Bjugstad is set to inherit Trocheck’s wingers, Smith and Jussi Jokinen, which could very likely bump his production, as well as help him on the defensive side of the game. Bjugstad has posted a team low, minus-10 through 61 games, as well as below average possession numbers.
Another player the Panthers would love to see step-up is Rocco Grimraldi, who was called up Wednesday afternoon. The center, who stands at just 5-6, was considered one of the highest skilled players in the 2011 draft, but fell to the Panthers at pick No. 33, most likely due to his size.
Grimraldi has succeeded in the AHL in the past two seasons. He put up 42 points in 64 games last season, which was his first year out of college. This season he has put up 33 in 52 games.
This could very well be Grimraldi’s big chance to make a good impression on the Panthers. This time around, Grimraldi will likely lace up in Bjugstad’s spot on the third line between Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell.
With a handful of young players bidding to make next year’s roster, such as Lawson Crouse or Jayce Hawryluk, Grimraldi would be wise to take this opportunity and run with it.
The last option is Dave Bolland. Bolland has become a trigger word with Panthers’ fans after signing a massive five-year, $27.5 million deal a couple off-seasons ago.
The center put up 23 points in 52 games last season, which wasn’t that far off his career pace, but this year, Bolland has managed just one goal and five points in 25 games, as well as a minus-2 rating, bad faceoff numbers and abysmal possession numbers.
No matter who it is that steps up for the Panthers, the team will look to gain some momentum heading into the postseason, as well as setting a franchise record for most points in a season.