There's little doubt Blaine (Minn.) High School forward Nick Bjugstad will be the highest U.S. scholastic player drafted when the NHL holds its annual selection process at Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 25-26.
Those odds increased March 14 when Bjugstad became the only player from Blaine ever to win the Mr. Hockey Award as the most outstanding high school senior in the state of Minnesota. The award, selected by a panel of NHL scouts, NCAA Division I coaches and media members from around the state, was presented to Bjugstad at the RiverCentre in St. Paul.
It's an award that certainly has its privileges. Take, for instance, New Jersey Devils defenseman Paul Martin, who won the 2000 Mr. Hockey Award as a senior at Elk River High School. The Devils selected Martin in the second round (No. 62) of the 2000 Entry Draft.
"It was definitely a big honor at the time for me and still is because Minnesota takes a lot of pride in their hockey and always has," Martin told NHL.com. "For a high school kid to get that label is pretty special and a pretty cool thing to have, especially when you look at the guys that come before you who you watch growing up. It's a big honor and something cool they do for the state and the high school hockey there."
"It was definitely a big honor at the time for me and still is because Minnesota takes a lot of pride in their hockey and always has." -- New Jersey Devils Paul Martin on the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award
Though only a junior, Bjugstad accelerated his studies and will graduate this spring. He's committed to play at the University of Minnesota next fall.
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's No. 12 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters available for the 2010 Entry Draft.
"He's further along and more polished than (Boston's Blake) Wheeler," 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 was chosen Mr. Hockey from 10 finalists, a list that included a number of highly-ranked prospects on Central Scouting's list. Among them are Warroad center Brock Nelson (No. 17); Minnetonka center Max Gardiner (No. 36) and center Justin Holl (No. 54); and Cretin-Derham Hall defenseman Mark Alt (No. 37).
Four of the last five Mr. Hockey Award winners were taken in the first round of their respective drafts (Nick Leddy, 2009; Ryan McDonagh, 2007; David Fischer, 2006; Brian Lee, 2005).
Bjugstad also has an NHL family background. His uncle, Scott Bjugstad, played nine NHL seasons spanning 317 games between 1983-84 and 1991-92 with the Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings.
"My uncle and my dad have each been a huge influence on me," Nick Bjugstad said. "They both talk to me, not so much about draft, but just living in the moment and helping me -- with shooting and other tips."
Martin offered some advice for Bjugstad.
"I got to see (Bjugstad) play when I was home for a week in Minnesota," Martin said. "My advice would be to just keep a level head and keep working. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. He's a big kid and I'm sure he'll be just fine."Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com