Vincent Trocheck brings skill Gerard Gallant, Rangers covet

Perhaps the first thing you should know about the Rangers’ new second-line center is that Vincent Trocheck is a Gerard Gallant player. That is distinct from simply stating that the free agent signee played for the Rangers’ head coach when both were in Florida.

Because Trocheck, the 29-year-old who reaped a seven-year contract at an annual salary-cap hit of $5.625 million, represents everything Gallant wants in a forward. He plays with pace, he plays with bite, he contests every free puck, he is in on the forecheck, and he tracks back hard on the defensive side of the puck. He is strong at the dots.

He is a pain in the neck against whom to play, as the Rangers can attest after facing him seven times in the second-round victory over Carolina less than two months ago. He gets in opponents’ faces. He can be a yapper.

And oh, there is talent and creativity, too, an ability to make plays and keep up with creative wingers. These will be necessary when he lines up and sees Artemi Panarin on his left.

Ryan Strome, who signed a five-year deal with the Ducks on Wednesday, was a very good Ranger in his three-plus years on Broadway. He formed a strong union with Panarin, recording 0.81 points per game over the past three seasons, which ranked him eighth among NHL centers with at least 200 games played. He was part of the leadership group.

Rangers
Vincent Trocheck and Gerard Gallant during their time with the Panthers.
PA

And lest we not forget, on the cusp of free agency, Strome put his health at risk by playing Game 6 at Tampa Bay despite dealing with a restrictive and painful injury to the pelvic area that had limited him through the series. He could have protected himself. He did not do that. He tried to play. He was a very good Ranger.

So if Trocheck may not necessarily be a slam-dunk upgrade over Strome, he brings a different skill set to the mix. He adds elements that the Rangers needed and need. For the Blueshirts ultimately beaten were by the Lightning in the conference finals because they couldn’t win pucks, couldn’t get to the inside, couldn’t get to the net.

The Rangers were not as homogeneous a year ago as they had been under the previous administration, but the top-six was still too polite. Still too white collar. Trocheck carries a lunch pail to work. Would it be ideal if he were 6-foot-4, 230 pounds instead of 5-10, 185? Yes, but then he likely would have cost $10 million a year.

Here’s a stat: Last year, Strome averaged 1.81 hits per 60:00, while Mika Zibanejad was in at 2.52 hits per 60:00. Trocheck recorded 7.66 hits per 60:00.

What you’re going to see is what Gallant got from Trocheck when the pair hooked up with the Panthers, from 2014-15 through the first quarter of 2016-17 at the start of the center’s career.

“I got to know Turk really well and had a really good relationship with him,” Trocheck said. “He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had, so having him in New York was another huge draw for me to come here.”

Rangers
Vincent Trocheck
PA

If you are concerned about the length of the contract, if you are fretting over what Trocheck will look like at age 35 in 2028-29, you really ought to get a different hobby. This isn’t about six years from now. This is about winning the Stanley Cup this year or next year or the year after — while Igor Shesterkin is under contract and veterans such as Panarin, Zibanejad and Chris Kreider are still upper-echelon productive members of society.

The cap number works for the Rangers and, as general manager Chris Drury acknowledged after pulling off the deal, the cap number is lower because the term was higher. Everyone can or should be able to live quite well with that. This was good work from the GM.

The Rangers replaced Strome with Trocheck, but they are going to have to rely on kids and untapped talent, such as Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov and Sammy Blais, to replace top-six deadline acquisitions Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano — who fled to Detroit and Anaheim, respectively, as free agents. Brennan Othmann will surely be given a long look at camp. Will Cuylle will be given every chance to force his way into the conversation.

There were significant defections from the fourth line as well, with the Blueshirts simply unable to afford Tyler Motte and Kevin Rooney under the cap, though Drury ideally would have wanted to keep both. There will be a different look there, as well.

The Rangers have approximately $5.2 million of cap space with which to sign restricted free agent Kakko and add a 13th forward and seventh defenseman, after signing backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak and trading defenseman Patrik Nemeth.

It will be important for Drury to husband as much as possible and not max out so the team has the wherewithal to deal with injuries and be in position to bid when the rental market opens. When Patrick Kane becomes available, the Rangers must have the space to accommodate him.

That is for later. For now, the Rangers added a Gallant player. The more the merrier.

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