Would Vincent Trocheck or Filip Chytil be Rangers’ best bet for second-line center?
During Vincent Trocheck’s first season in New York, he played all 82 games and finished with 64 points, the second-highest total of his career. He had the third most points among the forwards, finishing fourth in team scoring behind Adam Fox (72), Mika Zibanejad (91), and Artemi Panarin (92).
He also skated an average of 19:19 a night, trailing only Zibanejad and Panarin, playing almost a whole minute more per game than first-liner Chris Kreider. Interestingly, only four Rangers finished the year with over 200 shots, which Trocheck ranked third with 225. Although he was in the middle of the pack regarding shooting percentage, he scored 22 goals, good enough for a fourth-place tie with Filip Chytil.
Now that New York has brought in a new head coach, Peter Laviolette, and some new forwards like Blake Wheeler, there will be questions about who anchors down the second-line center spot. Even though the answer is pretty obvious, we will dissect some statistics and see if this player is the right call.
Chemistry is critical in deciding who plays on the second line
As mentioned earlier, Trocheck played 19:19 a night, took the second most faceoffs on the team (1,286), and had the best winning percentage (56.1) by any player with more than five draws. Considering his stiffest competition for second-line duty is Chytil, it would be quite a step up in responsibility for the 23-year-old in comparison.
Last year, while bouncing around the lineup, the former first-round pick (2017) scored a career-high 22 goals and 45 points while finishing with a plus-15 rating. Although Chytil saw more playing time in 2019-20 at 14:50 minutes per game, he finally started to see his minutes climb last year (14:14) and was productive enough to keep going over the boards at that rate.
However, unlike Trocheck, he struggled mightily in the circle, winning only 39.8% of his draws, producing a 251-380 record in faceoffs. Even though most people want to give him a chance to be a top-six player, as his draft position (21st overall) would indicate, it’s not his time yet.
Considering that the Rangers just brought Wheeler in to be a winger in the top six, he’s almost guaranteed to play on the second while Kreider, Zibanejad, and Kaapo Kakko skate together as a unit. Of course, depending on the matchup or who’s stuck in a scoring slump, Panarin, Trocheck, Wheeler, and Alexis Lafreniere will all get a turn on the top line.
Ultimately, Chytil will get his shots this season because, at this stage, he’s earned a chance to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. However, now that the kid line (Chytil, Kakko, and Lafreniere) will skate without Kakko, it will be time for Chytil to own the third line and get Jimmy Vesey back to the 20-goal plateau.
Trocheck is the logical choice to play along with Panarin and Wheeler.
Interestingly, when anyone examines the career statistics of Trocheck, Panarin, and Wheeler, all three players have more assists than goals, which could be a situation to monitor as the season progresses. Heading into the new season, Panarin and Wheeler have more than double the helpers than lamplighters, so hopefully, Trocheck will score more than 22 goals next year.
Additionally, Trocheck led all three players with 225 shots last year, ahead of Panarin (204) and Wheeler (126). So, unless Laviolette changes their styles, Wheeler will likely be the primary setup guy since he hasn’t registered over 200 shots in four seasons. Overall, Panarin and Trocheck should benefit from his presence on the ice, especially when the Rangers possess the play.
Ultimately, a veteran coach like Laviolette will try to establish chemistry with his new players, like Wheeler, who is now one of the oldest players in the lineup. Depending on how things shape up in training camp, the debate about who the possible second-line center is could easily switch to another impactful position, leaving Trocheck right where he was most of last season.