By Andrew Imber for floridapanthers.com
|Nick Bjugstad skates recently in a practice at Panthers Development Camp (Glenn Odebralski)
With 35 prospects attending the Florida Panthers 2011 Development Camp at the Saveology.com Iceplex last week, including many first timers, nobody could be blamed for having some confusion in trying to identify the players. However, at six-foot-four, 2010 first round draft pick (19th overall) Nick Bjugstad
quite literally stood out.
Smoothly skating up and down the ice, screening goaltenders with his large frame, and powering past defenders, Bjugstad gave his audience a glimpse at the future.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Bjugstad said of his time at development camp. “There’s been a lot of input from a lot of different people. We’ve even had Micky (Ward) from ‘The Fighter’ here.
“I think this camp is important.”
Bjugstad is hoping to continue his progression after an up and down season at the University of Minnesota. After finishing high school in three years to make the jump to college quicker, and earning Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award (top high school senior hockey player in Minnesota) along the way, Bjugstad struggled early on as a freshman last season. His 29 goals in just 25 games during his senior year of high school dipped to an eight goal college freshman campaign. However, as the season progressed, so did his game.
“I had mono a couple of weeks into (college),” said Bjugstad. “That was a setback. But I adjusted in the second half. It was a confidence thing – I started telling myself I could do it and that helped. It was a good experience, and I’m hoping to come back next year and make a difference.”
In addition to a strong finish of his freshman year of college by recording 16 points (six goals) in his last 16 games, Bjugstad also enjoyed success at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York. He finished the tournament with two goals and four points, including the game winning goal against Team Sweden in the Bronze Medal Game.
“It was a great experience – one of the best of my life,” Bjugstad said of the World Juniors. “There were a lot of good guys on that team. I’d love to play in Edmonton this coming year.”
Bjugstad may get that chance, as he has been invited to Team USA’s Evaluation Camp for next year’s World Junior Championships, along with fellow Panther prospects Connor Brickley
, Rocco Grimaldi
and Vincent Trocheck
While Bjugstad will be looking to improve his game for that tournament, he’ll also be looking to have a strong sophomore season at Minnesota.
“I was a lot more comfortable in the second half of the year,” said Bjugstad. “So hopefully I can keep that same feeling this coming year. I’m looking to score more goals – I didn’t produce much last year. I’m just looking to get my scoring touch back from high school.”
Although college athletes have to pay their own way to NHL developmental camps, Bjugstad enjoyed the experience, especially when it means new experiences and a chance to further his hockey skills.
“We’ve been doing some fun stuff,” said Bjugstad. “We went to the beach. We had some guys cooking steaks that had never cooked before. Some guys sat on alligators at the Everglades. That was exciting and funny.
“It’s a great organization, so it’s hard to turn down coming here.”