Growing up in Minnesota, hockey is part of the culture. It’s a way of life. For Panthers center, Nick Bjugstad it’s no different.
“As soon as I could walk, my dad had me walking around in skates,” said Bjugstad with a laugh.
“I think I was on the ice at three years old. You start early if it’s in the family usually, and you kind of get attached to it. My mom says I used to sleep with my hockey stick when I was younger.”
Hockey is a big part of the Bjugstad family, especially with Nick’s uncle Scott Bjugstad being an ex-NHLer. The elder Bjugstad played most of his career for his hometown Minnesota North Stars as well as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings. Today Scott Bjugstad is known for being a ‘shooting guru’ in Minnesota, with his nephew being one of his pupils in the summer.
“He knows how to shoot the puck, I think he still shoots the puck harder than me,” joked Bjugstad.
“Him and I took the same route, we both played high school hockey, played at the University of Minnesota and the NHL. He has a lot of advice, because he’s been through what I’ve been through. He calls me about once a week, we go over about what’s going on, it’s not always hockey talk. We have a close relationship. Him and my dad have always been very good to me.”
In his 2010 draft year, Bjugstad earned the honor of being named ‘Minnesota Mr. Hockey’ as a standout player for Blaine High School, recording 69 points (35-34-69) in 30 games and was selected in the first round (19th overall) by Florida shortly after.
“For me, draft day was really exciting,” said Bjugstad.
“I didn’t really know where I was going to go. Usually no one knows unless you’re a top three pick. I met with Florida quite a bit before the draft, and had a good feeling about them. It was a surreal moment for me.”
Bjugstad prepared for a career in the NHL by following in his uncle’s footsteps and committing to the University of Minnesota. Bjugstad spent three years with the Golden Gophers, posting 98 points (54-44-98) in 109 games.
“When you’re in Minnesota, one of your main goals is to play college hockey, especially for the Gophers,” said Bjugstad.
“We didn’t have an NHL team for a long time, before the Minnesota Wild came in, playing for the Gophers was like playing in the NHL for me. That was a goal of mine, I had the opportunity to go there and finish my degree. I met a lot of good friends and had a lot of great experiences there. I’m glad I went the route I did with college.”
One of Bjugstad’s close friends from his days with Gophers is Panthers prospect, Kyle Rau. Rau currently serves as the Gophers’ captain and Bjugstad looks forward to reuniting with his college teammate down the road with the Panthers.
“It was wild [when Rau was drafted by Florida].”
“We’re real good buddies. I always grew up playing against Kyle, I lived with him for a year [as teammates], he’s a really intense little guy. He’s going to be good to have when he ends up turning pro and he’s going to do well at the next level. Every level he’s played at, he’s proven himself. I think he’ll do that here as well.”
Turning pro at the end of the 2012-13 season, Bjugstad scored his first career goal in the Panthers’ season finale in Tampa Bay (Apr. 27, 2013).
The following offseason there were questions surrounding the young center primarily about whether he would end up in San Antonio or South Florida. After an injury sustained in the team’s rookie tournament, Bjugstad worked hard to recover and stick with the Panthers.
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| KNOW YOUR CATS: Nick Bjugstad |
Jersey Number: 27
From: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Weight: 218 lbs.
Born: July 17, 1992 (22 years old)
Drafted: First Round (19th overall) by Florida Panthers
Favorite Hockey Memory: Playing in Minnesota High School State Tournament
Favorite Song: Bad Moon Rising
Favorite Movie: Semi Pro
Favorite Actor: Nick Swardson
Favorite Actress: Beyonce
Favorite Book: To Kill a Mockingbird
Favorite Thing about South Florida: Fishing Year Round
Favorite Getaway: Cabin in Northern Minnesota
Reason for Wearing No. 27: Nick’s uncle Scott Bjugstad wore 27 at University of Minnesota
Bjugstad made his season debut for Florida on Oct. 15, 2013 when the Cats played the Nashville Predators and impressed enough to stay with the Panthers.
Bjugstad went on to lead the team in scoring with 38 points (16-22-38) in just the first full season of his career.
“You don’t really expect that as a rookie,” said Bjugstad.
“Going into the season you don’t really know what’s going to happen. I’m pretty fortunate to play with some of the guys I did, and get some of the chances I did. You can’t get too ahead of yourself after your first year. I’m just going to try my best to stay consistent and do my best every day, move on from last year and realize it’s a new year with new opportunity.”
In his spare time, Bjugstad enjoys the simpler parts of South Florida life, like fishing and golfing although he’ll admit he “isn’t very good at golf”. Living in sunny Florida has it’s perks over what Bjugstad describes as the “tundra” in the winter of Minnesota.
“Just being in this warm weather is good enough for me. It’s nice, it keeps you healthy. When you come to the rink you kind of forget you’re in Florida, you’re at the rink. It is nice to wear flip flops to the rink though, so I can’t complain about that.”
The 6’6”, 218 lbs. Bjugstad is not just a big part of the Panthers present, but a key piece to the team’s future. After coming off of a strong first NHL season, Bjugstad is poised to take the next step in his career this season.