COLUMBUS, Ohio – When Zach Trotman finally made his NHL debut this season, he had to fill a second role in addition to being a depth defenseman on the Penguins blue line.
During a 4-3 overtime road loss to the New York Islanders, a scrum broke after a dangerous hit by Islanders forward Anders Lee on Penguins forward Brandon Tanev late in the third period. In the ensuing confusion, an official mistakenly kicked Penguins forward Jared McCann off of the ice and sent him to the dressing room.
Once tempers cooled a bit, the referees and linesmen realized McCann had not been ejected from the game. The only problem was the visiting team facilities in Barclays Center are not connected to the bench, and the journey to that dressing room requires a labyrinthine journey from the Zamboni gate.
The game was held up so McCann could be summoned to return.
Trotman took it upon himself to fetch his teammate, who was in the midst of removing his gear.
“Initially, I guess one of the refs told McCann that he was out,” Trotman said. “So he got off the ice. Then the other (referee) said he didn’t have to. So, obviously, we wanted him for the end of the game. So they’re radioing to him. And (coach Mike Sullivan) just told somebody to go get him. Everyone’s just kind of standing there so I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to go get him.’
Trotman’s other contributions to the Penguins this season have been limited. In four games, he has no points, four shots and four penalty minutes. Out of training camp, he was on long-term injured reserve with a sports hernia he suffered in September.
“It’s never what you want to have happen,” Trotman said.
“But you have to do what you have to do. So you stick through it. The training staff here is great. Got back really quickly, and I was able to play some games down in (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and kind of hit my stride pretty quick.”
Formally assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Oct. 21 once he healed, Trotman played in eight AHL games and scored five points (two goals, three assists) before being recalled Nov. 21 as an injury replacement.
His four games in the NHL this season have been a mixed bag. While he had solid efforts against the Islanders and the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 22, he was directly involved in defending goals against versus the Calgary Flames on Monday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
He has learned to have a short memory on those occasions.
“Breakdowns happen. Stuff happens,” Trotman said. “It’s nothing you can really worry about or beat yourself up over. You’re not going to go a whole season without not getting scored on.”
After playing the Flames, Trotman was a healthy scratch and replaced by Chad Ruhwedel against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
As a veteran who has played far more AHL games (232) than NHL games (87, prior to Saturday), living on the edge of being dressed or scratched is something Trotman has gotten used to.
“If you get caught up in that, you start thinking about every play, thinking about what your supposed to be doing right now, which guy am I supposed to be covering,” said Trotman, 29. “If you do that, you’re not going to play well, and you’re not going to get results. You have to go out with your instincts and your athletic ability and whatever else has gotten you to this point. Just take a step back, take a deep breather and just go play.”
That approach has led to management displaying considerable amount of loyalty to him, even if he has spent most of his three seasons with the organization at the AHL level.
“We think he’s a good player,” Sullivan said. “He’s big. He’s strong. He’s mobile. He understands his game. He plays within himself. He’s just a reliable player for us. When we have discussions when we talk about our defensive group as a whole, our NHL defensive group, even when Zach was in Wilkes-Barre, he’s part of that discussion. He played solid games for us at the end of the year last (season). Unfortunately, he got hurt through training camp and missed the beginning part of the season. We just think he’s a very good player, and he’s part of this group of NHL defensemen that we have.”
The vast majority of Trotman’s limited ice time at the NHL level this season has come with fellow defenseman Marcus Pettersson. According to Natural Stat Trick, they have logged 49 minutes, 55 seconds of common five-on-five ice time. Trotman (6-foot-3) and Pettersson (6-4) are two of the team’s tallest players.
“We’re both pretty good at using our reach,” Pettersson said. “He has a really long stick. He’s probably up there in stick length with myself. He has a really good reach.
“We played a couple of games last year, too, with each other. It’s nothing new. He’s a really solid (defenseman). You know what you get out of him every night and where he’s at out on the ice. I feel like we play good together.”
Regardless of who he is teamed with or what league he is in, Trotman brings a basic approach to how he plays.
“You have to show focus. You have to show you’re prepared and ready to go,” Trotman said. “Whether you’re in the lineup, out of the lineup or down in (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), you have to make sure you’re preparing every day like you’re going to be playing here. That’s something that kind of I’ve learned throughout in my seven or eight years now. That’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
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Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
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