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Panthers' Bjugstad returns, Thomas close to returning

by Staff /

The Florida Panthers confirmed that towering center Nick Bjugstad will make his 2013-14 season debut against the Nashville Predators in Music City on Tuesday. Bjugstad suffered a concussion during training camp that forced him to miss the season's first six games. The Panthers went 2-4-0 in those games.

During the morning skate in Nashville, the 6-foot-6 Bjugstad skated on a line with Krys Barch and Tomas Kopecky. In 11 games last season, the 21-year-old Minnesota native collected one goal, no assists and a minus-8 rating.

Bjugstad's return couldn't have come at a better time. The Panthers could use his youth and size up front after scoring just 13 goals in six games, giving them a 2.17 goals-per-game average that ranks 25th in the League. Bjugstad was also invited to Team USA's preliminary Olympic camp last summer, which was run in part by Nashville general manager David Poile, so a strong performance could get Bjugstad some notice when it comes time to put the American Olympic team together.

The Panthers also revealed that goaltender Tim Thomas is expected to be back in net for their game Thursday against the 39-year-old's former team, the Boston Bruins. Thomas has already missed three games since injuring his groin on Oct. 8 against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he expects to be ready to go when his team faces a Bruins club he led to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. Jacob Markstrom will get the start in net for the Panthers against Nashville.

The matchup will also provide a unique opportunity for Predators rookie defenseman Seth Jones, who the Panthers passed on in the 2014 NHL Draft by selecting forward Aleksander Barkov with the second pick. Nashville took Jones two picks later and has been thrilled by the 6-4 rookie, who scored his first NHL goal Saturday night in a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.

Jones also leads all rookies in ice time and his role on the team has continued to expand with veteran defenseman Roman Josi still out with a concussion.

"Every game there is still a lot for him to understand, the nuances of the pro game. His hockey sense and his athletic ability have allowed him to fend off some of those extreme nuances in our game," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "He hasn't got caught as much in that. He's learning the position more and more at this level. I can see him being a pretty dominant force for a long time."

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