|Nick Bjugstad skates with the puck in a game last season for University of Minnesota (University of Minnesota)
For Nick Bjugstad, the decision wasn’t easy.
Ever since the season ended for the University of Minnesota Gophers, he had to mull over the decision of whether to return for his junior season or turn pro and take a shot at making the Panthers out of training camp.
“It’s a tough [decision], especially since how the season ended last year,” Bjugstad said. “We got a lot of good players coming in at Minnesota [and] we got a lot of good players coming back so it’s a tough one. Obviously it’s a great organization and it’s been turned around.”
The forward has been a staple of the USA Under-20 team for the past couple of seasons. He credits the experience he gained from his first season playing in World Juniors in which he helped Team USA earn a bronze for his excellent season he just had for Minnesota.
“Two years ago, it was my first year in World Juniors, so I think that kind of helped me,” he said. “I had a rough start my freshman year and it gave me a little boost of confidence, we had a good tournament there; we won bronze. It just jump started me there and I kind of had some confidence because I realized it was a pretty good tournament with a lot of good players.”
That jump start has paid dividends for the Blaine, MN native. Last season, Bjugstad had better numbers for both the USA team and for Minnesota than the year prior. Bjugstad compiled 42 points (25 goals, 17 assists) in 40 games for Minnesota compared to the 20 points he had in just 29 games in his freshman season. He also had six points in six games for team USA in 2011-2012.
The Gophers lost to the eventual NCAA champion, Boston College in the Frozen Four. The heartbreak of losing while being so close to a championship as well as making the ability to earn his degree at the end of his Junior season pushed Bjugstad to stay another year in Minnesota.
"This is the right spot for me," said Bjugstad after making his decision back in mid-July. "I am going to be close to finishing my education and hopefully can accomplish the goal that I have had ever since I was little, which is winning a national championship. We are going to have a good team this year and hopefully get another chance at the national championship and make a run there. I feel I can develop here and become more of a leader on the team as well. Hopefully, I will have a good season."
You may have recognized the Bjugstad name before. Nick’s uncle, Scott played hockey for 13 seasons in numerous leagues, including an excellent career at the same school that his nephew now calls home. He played in 317 career games in the NHL and tallied 144 points.
“My uncle obviously had a great career, especially at Minnesota. He’s kind of put my name out there from the start, which is nice,” he explained. “It’s not too much pressure him being my uncle, I think it would be more pressure if it was like my dad or something.”
Bjugstad looks to his uncle for advice and tips on his game.
“My uncle is a good mentor for me and we talk quite a bit,” Bjugstad explained. “He’s always all over me saying I got to play confident. [He tells me to] think you’re the best player out there and make sure you’re confident within yourself.”
For Bjugstad, it's all about taking the right path in terms of his development as he hopes to become the player the Panthers were looking for when they selected him 19th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, a big center that can play a solid two way game but most importantly, fill the net.