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Young Gun Q&A: Nick Bjugstad

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers

The Panthers young gun center discusses his transition from playing college hockey at the University of Minnesota to playing with the Panthers in his first full pro season, teammates past and present, facing an idol, family advice and more.

It's been about 10 months since playing your last college game at the University of Minnesota, how has the transition gone for you?

Bjugstad - It's gone pretty well. It took me a while to figure it out, figure the game out and learning a little bit. I'm still learning every day but it's a different style. College you're only playing two games a week so it's not as rigorous of a schedule. Obviously you don't have school and stuff like that so that's a benefit when it comes to resting. Once you're done at the rink here, you can do whatever you want. No study table or no school so that's kind of nice.

I'm enjoying it this far. I've played more games. I think I've played almost equal to the number of games we played last year so that's pretty rigorous but I'm liking it.

What's the easiest part of the transition?

Bjugstad - Just being able to focus on hockey. that's probably the main thing. It was good for me to go to school and everything but when you're just focusing on hockey, you don't have to worry about a big paper at night or a big test the next day which is kind of nice so just a lot more mentally focused

Where do you think you'd be right now if you decided on going back for your senior year?

Bjugstad - (laughing) I mean I don't know. The Minnesota team is very good. They really don't need me from what it seems like. They're doing a good job. They're No. 1 in the nation* so if I would have stayed I don't know. I would have liked to, Kyle (Rau) and I played together for two years. I like playing with him. He made me a better player, we fit well together so that would have been fun playing with him but it's a good transition for me here.

*Minnesota is currently 14-2-3 and has picked up 48 out of 50 first place votes in the poll.

Do you still keep in contact with Kyle* a lot?

Bjugstad - I talk to him about once a week, either FaceTime or something like that. I either try to let him it's a good deal down here and he's doing a really good job up there (in Minnesota).

*Rau, a junior, is currently third on the team in scoring with 21 points (5-16-21) in 22 games

It's not common to see young centers take on so much responsibility but you and Sasha are doing that, how do you think you've been able to manage?

Bjugstad - Yeah. Between (Sasha) Barkov and I, we're pretty young, Barkov especially, and we're going against some better centers and some better lines so we have got to be on our toes all the time and be ready for them. Playing well defensively is the main thing. Stuff will happen offensively but playing well defensively is the main thing that I'm trying to learn to do well.

I know everyone says they don't but you talk about going up against great players like the Pavel Datsyuk's and Sidney Crosby's and Alex Ovechkin's, do you ever have to take a moment to think about who you're going up against?

Bjugstad - You don't think about it when you're playing. It's just a read and react game so you're not really thinking about who you're out there against but when I was at the face-off dot on Thursday night and I was looking at Joe Thornton. I always looked up to him so that was kind of cool. He said 'Holy cow you're pretty big aren't you?' so that was kind of cool he said that. I don't know. I always looked up to him so when you line up against guys like that, it's pretty surreal. I enjoy playing against that high competition.

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 22: Nick Bjugstad #27 of the Florida Panthers chases the puck against Jiri Hudler #24 of the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 22, 2013 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

You've talked about your uncle Scott* a lot giving you great advice, how often do you still pick his brain and get advice?

Bjugstad - I talk to him quite a bit actually. He's got a lot to say. When it comes to the game he knows it quite a bit. He's still into the game. He really knows how to shoot the puck so he works with me in all aspects of the game and he gives me advice. He'll shoot me a text every once and a while if I need one and we talk quite a bit on the phone.

*Scott Bjugstad recorded 144 points (76-68-144) in 317 games over nine NHL seasons with the Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Los Angeles Kings

So going back to 2010 and being drafted by the Panthers, what would you say is your favorite Panthers moment so far?

Bjugstad - I don't know. I haven't been here too long but individually it would have to be that first goal (against Tampa last year). Getting that monkey off my back that was probably a good one for me. Team wise, it's just learning every day. It's not any specific day, just being with a good group of guys and learning every day and getting better.

Who would you say is the best teammate so far?

Bjugstad - There's a lot of guys in the room that guide me. All around, I like listening to (Krys) Barch. I sit next to him in stalls and he's energetic and positive and he's funny too. He's a fun guy off the ice too. he likes to tell some jokes and good stories.

You have an off day, how are you spending it?

Bjugstad - I like to fish. I usually go to the canals and fish in the ponds. I'm not a big golfer. I used to be but I can't really golf any more. I don't know where my swing went (laughs). It went downhill. I do a lot of fishing and just relaxing. It's nice in this weather so I enjoy it.

Any particular fish?

Bjgustad - Down here? I like to bass fish quite a bit. I bass fish down here too but you don't catch anything in here. (Alex Petrovic) and I just caught a snakehead and we were freaking out because we had never seen one before. It's fun seeing different types of fish down here.

What's your favorite spot in South Florida?

Bjugstad - I just recently discovered Sushi Rock in Fort Lauderdale. It's probably my favorite restaurant spot.

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