Nick Bjugstad had a remarkable career at the University of Minnesota but now he’s ready to prove himself in his first full NHL season.
Looking back it is crazy to think that just three years ago the Panthers selected the 6-6 220 lb Gopher product with the 19th overall in the first round in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Now he is knocking on the door and the Panthers envision him as someone who could be another face of the franchise for a number of years. The Blaine, MN native could not have been more excited to be drafted in the first round.
“It was a whirlwind and I didn’t really know where I was going to go but it was great to have my family in Los Angeles,” said Bjugstad, reflecting at July’s Development Camp. “But I had a feeling it was Florida because of the meetings we had.”
Bjugstad has been one of the top college goal scorers the last two years, posting 25 and 21 goals respectively over that span. Two years ago his efforts helped the Gophers get all the way to the Frozen Four before they lost to the eventual champions of Boston College.
“Playing in the Frozen Four was one of the biggest moments in my college career,” said Bjugstad. “We didn’t end up winning the whole thing but it was a fun experience.”
Despite being only 20-years old Bjugstad has had plenty of experience playing for Minnesota and playing in the World Championships. When Bjugstad played in the World Championships he really took a lot from the tournament.
“It was a little different style than the NHL or college,” said Bjugstad. “It’s a little eye opening but it was a good experience for me.”
Bjugstad has shown that he has learned from plenty of good players such as his uncle Scott Bjugstad. Scott Bjugstad played in the NHL for 13 seasons, and when Bjugstad was at the World Championships he also learned a lot from current Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny and St Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie. Stastny and Oshie are both established NHL players that were teammates of Bjugstad’s during this past summer’s World Championships.
Going back to his college experience, after Bjugstad finished his junior season in Minnesota, he felt that it was time to take his game to the NHL. When Bjugstad entered the NHL he was not surprised by the play but realized how different it was.
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Someone who made sure that Bjugstad got a handle on the NHL was center Shawn Matthias because he knew the situation Bjugstad was in. Much like Bjugstad, Matthias came into the NHL as a young 20-year-old player too.
“He was kind of in the same position because he was 19 or 20 when he played his first few games so he kind of showed me the ropes and talked me through it,” said Bjugstad. “It was nice having guys like that and it helped me feel comfortable.”
Playing in 11 games with Florida, Bjugstad was able to record his first career NHL goal in the season finale victory over in-state rival Tampa Bay.
“It took me a while but it was pretty surreal,” said Bjugstad. “I don’t really remember it. It was kind of a whirlwind, it was awesome. I was pumped…it was a really cool experience.”
Bjugstad noticed that there was a significant difference between not just in the level of play but how few mistakes were made.
“There is a lot more structure,” said Bjugstad. “Guys are in the right spot, and there is a lot less room for errors. You’re playing against the best players in the world so there is less room to mess up and you got to be on your ‘A’ game every shift.”
After losing a player such as Stephen Weiss, players like Bjugstad are waiting to seize an opportunity to play with Florida for the whole season. Bjugstad takes on a lot of responsibility.
He has been working hard throughout the offseason to contribute even more to the Panthers next season.
“I’ve been down at the University (Minnesota) and a lot of alumni skate there,” said Bjugstad. “We get good skates in. I just train as hard as I can so I’m ready for training camp (in September).”