There's a lot to like about Minnesota scholastic standout Nick Bjugstad
For starters, the 6-foot-3 3/4, 188-pound Blaine High School junior happens to be the top-rated schoolboy skater -- No. 13 -- on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2010 Entry Draft, to be held June 25-26 in Los Angeles.
He's athletically gifted, strong-willed and the prototypical captain. On top of that, he's getting bigger and better.
"I don't think he's done growing yet," Blaine coach Dave Aus told NHL.com. "So right off the bat, he's got a tremendous advantage. Then he's got genetics. His uncle (Scott Bjugstad
) played in the NHL. But Nick has just worked so hard and he's stronger than most kids he's playing against right now."
Then there's the chip on his shoulder that's too big to ignore.
"Minnesota boys are kind of known not to be so nice, so I want to be tougher with my game and become more physical," Bjugstad said. "I need to get mentally tougher and take every shift with that mindset that I can do it. Then it becomes natural."
It's that mindset that's so intriguing because Bjugstad, who enjoys fishing, golf and hunting in his spare time, is one of the kindest individuals you'd ever want to meet. His teammates love playing with him because he always has taken the approach that there is no insignificant piece in the team puzzle.
"A year or two of college will be good for him," Aus said. "He'll take a few lumps in college and probably early in his NHL career, but after he knows what to do, he'll be pretty tough to play against.
"Right now, he's such a humble kid. He just doesn't want to stick out thinking he's better."
Sometimes, though, that's easier said than done, because whenever Blaine needs a spark, Aus usually calls Bjugstad's number.
"We try and use him as much as we can -- we even had him playing a shift or two on defense when down at the end of a game because he can singlehandedly get the puck out of the zone and turn the transition," Aus said. "He'll make passes that normal hockey players just can't because he sees the ice so well."
Bjugstad finished the regular season with had 29 goals and 60 points in 25 games for Blaine (21-6-3). He added 5 goals and 9 points in five state playoff games, including 2 goals and 3 points in a 3-1 victory against Maple Grove in the Section 5AA championship March 5. He capped his season by winning the state's Mr. Hockey Award, given to the outstanding senior high school hockey player in the state.
Aus compared his big center to a young David Backes
or Andrew Brunette
"He's good along the boards and knows how to use his body to protect the puck," Aus said. "If the puck is up for grabs along the half boards, he's very good at shielding guys from the puck by just sticking his rear end out. He's so strong and his reach is tremendous, so it makes it tough for other high school kids."
Bjugstad will play at the University of Minnesota in the spring after accelerating his high school studies to graduate this spring.
"He's further along and more polished than (Boston's Blake) Wheeler," NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee, who specializes in U.S.-based prospects, told NHL.com. "He's also a better skater than David Backes
was at the same age (17). The only difference is Backes was thicker, but the ingredients are there. He wants the puck and wants to make plays. He's a blue-collar type kid who works his tail off."
Bjugstad realizes the opportunity in front of him and is determined to make the most of the situation.
"I know my size helps and my long reach, but I'm going to keep working," he said. "I've always admired guys like Saku Koivu
and Joe Thornton
-- I think I play a similar style to those guys. With my size, I'm more of a power forward so I want to use my body to reach that upper level."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.