BOSTON -- With the Florida Panthers officially in the rebuilding stage, the team is leaning on its young players to help turn things around.
Center Nick Bjugstad, 21, is one of those up-and-comers who has the potential to carve out an important role for himself on the ice for years to come. Bjugstad, the 19th pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, signed a three-year entry-level deal with Florida this past spring and jumped right into the pros after finishing his junior season at the University of Minnesota.
Bjugstad scored his first NHL goal in last season’s finale and has five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 12 games so far this year. He missed a few games in October after suffering a concussion during training camp, but now that he’s back, the 6-foot-6 skater brings size, determination and a right handed presence to the line up.
“For now, I’m just trying to work on playing a two way game, playing well in the defensive zone,” Bjugstad said. “I have to focus on doing the little things right and hopefully the bigger things will come.”
Bjugstad is Minnesota born and raised — he attended Blaine High School, where he was awarded the “Mr. Hockey” title in 2010 for being the most outstanding senior high school player in the state. He took classes over the summer to accelerate his education, finishing in three years, and during that time, his team had a few visits to the state tournament.
When asked about his high school experience, Bjugstad said with a grin, “That’s one thing I still think about — I never really won a big championship, so one of my favorite accomplishments [thus far in my career] is probably the state tournament. I mean, a lot of people laugh at that, but playing in the state tournament in front of 18,000 people? It’s a cool thought, you know, with your high school buddies.”
And it was his loyalty to those high school teammates that made him turn down an opportunity to join the U.S. National Team Development Program.
“I went to the camp, but obviously Minnesota high school hockey is a little different than everywhere else,” Bjugstad said. “It was a tough decision — I was really close to leaving, but I just opted to stay at home and be with my family and friends.”
Success on the ice runs in Bjugstad’s blood: his uncle, Scott Bjugstad, played at the University of Minnesota, was in the NHL for eight years and was also a part of the 1984 U.S. Olympic men’s team.
“I talk to him quite a bit,” Bjugstad said. “He’s obviously been through the whole deal, so he’s a good influence on me and he teaches me a lot. [As a kid] I’d go to his house and see this big mural with his jersey, so that’s motivating.”
Bjugstad followed in his uncle’s footsteps playing for the Gophers (completing his degree in three years) and also nabbing an invite to the U.S. Men’s National Team Orientation Camp for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
“It was a short little stint, but they packed in a lot of things to do,” Bjugstad said about the D.C.-based camp in August. “It was really cool just being with that group of guys — it was exciting. It was kind of a whirlwind, but it was a good time, and I definitely learned a lot.”
Bjugstad has already had the chance to wear a Team USA jersey before, winning bronze medals in the 2013 World Championships and the 2011 World Juniors. He said, “representing your country is definitely an honor,” and he’d like to do it again.
“Thankfully, I’ve gotten to this point, and a goal is to play for the Men’s National Team, too, but if I don’t, I mean, it is what it is, but that’s definitely a goal of mine to play in the Olympics one day.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.