For the first time in a long time, fans of the Florida Panthers have a lot to look forward to and be thankful for.
The Panthers have seen a 36 percent increase in attendance from last season, have received financial support from Broward County to ensure they stay in South Florida and their young players such as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad have developed into stars alongside a strong core of veterans consisting of Jaromir Jagr, Brian Campbell and Derek Mackenzie.
Some names you rarely hear mentioned when the Panthers successes are brought up are Jussi Jokinen, Vincent Trocheck, and Reilly Smith. It’s probably time that changes.
Heading into the season, the Panthers’ lines were a complete question mark outside of the Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr line. Due to injuries to Nick Bjugstad, who was slotted as the Panthers No. 2 center heading into the year, and the always-injured Dave Bolland, Trocheck got an opportunity to play significant minutes at center between Smith and Jokinen.
Once matched together, the trio instantly clicked, and have combined for a pretty deadly attack. The three players are all on pace for 50+ points this year. Smith has already topped his career best in goals with 23, Trocheck has more than doubled his career high in points and if Jokinen can continue to stay hot, (he is riding a 10-game point streak heading into Monday's game against the Islanders) he could have his best season since 2009-10 when he was with the Hurricanes.
Defensively, the line is very competent and the players have earned coach Gerard Gallant’s trust to play in key situations.
Smith and Jokinen have been staples on the Panthers penalty-killing unit since the beginning of the season, while Trocheck has began to see some PK time because of injuries down the middle. Jokinen is the team’s second-best faceoff man at 52 percent, while Trocheck, who takes a lot more draws, sits at 49 percent at the dot.
The line boasts a combined plus-41 rating, as well as some impressive possession numbers when playing together.
In over 350 minutes played as a line, they have a 57 percent Corsi For percentage, which is by far the best on the Panthers, and stacks up incredibly well to other team’s second lines. When they’re apart, however, their possession stats fall off the rails, with Jokinen being the only player above 50 percent. The three just seem to be a lot more effective when playing as a line and the Panthers are a better team when they are on the ice.
Due to their ability to play in all situations -- they headline the Panthers’ second power-play unit as well -- the Panthers’ second line actually sees the most shifts-per-game on the Panthers, with Smith averaging the most shifts-per-game of any Panthers forward.
Whether or not the Panthers see playoff success this year will be seen come April, but the Panthers have a deceptively deep roster filled with playoff experience and Stanley Cup rings. If they take a round or two in the postseason this year, their second line will have a lot to do with it.