During the dog days of summer, NHL news can be scarce but hockey fans are an insatiable breed so to fill up some of those empty summer spaces, we will be doing individual profiles of the Florida Panthers players. In these profiles, we will dish on the players’ previous season, what we can expect next year and also take a look back at their careers. We hope these little pieces help all you Panther fans retain your sanity while we hold on in anticipation of the new season this fall.
Nick Bjugstad had quite the year. He finished his junior season at the University of Minnesota with 36 points, (21 goals, 15 assist) good for third on the team. Following the Gophers’ disappointing exit from the postseason, Bjugstad signed a three year entry level contract with the Panthers and on April 6th he made his long awaited Panthers debut against the Washington Capitals. Getting his first taste of the NHL as a 20 year old, Bjugstad scored one goal while playing in Florida’s final eleven games.
Though the Panthers’s season had come to an end, Bjugstad kept right on going as he joined the US team at the 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championship. Bjugstad averaged 9:34 per game and contributed two assists in ten games for the US squad that would go on to win the bronze medal. He continued his summer of national team involvement by being named to the US Olympic Team’s preliminary roster, an honor that included a trip to the team’s orientation camp which took place earlier this week (Aug 26-27) in Arlington Virginia.
With his busy offseason behind him, the 21 year old will now turn his focus towards the start of training camp on September 12th and the task of locking up a spot on a Panthers roster that could be surprisingly hard to make. The Panthers have high hopes for their 6’6″ center and barring a disastrous training camp, he should be on the roster when the team heads to Dallas for their October 3rd opener against the Stars. However, the fact remains that the Panthers have six centers currently on their roster that will be vying for four roster spots. With Shawn Matthias, Marcel Goc, Drew Shore, Scott Gomez and Aleksander Barkov all very much in the picture, the argument can be made that if you were to make a list of who will provide the most production NOW, Bjugstad might be at the bottom.
The Panthers want to go young this season and Bjugstad is very much a part of their present and future plans. The questions that will be answered in training camp are, how young are the Panthers willing to go? and how much will Bjugstad’s long term potential play a role on his making the team this October? All the chatter surrounding the Panthers this off-season leads me to believe that he will indeed make the team this fall even if Florida has to move some players from their natural positions or give some veterans a more diminished role.
Back in July, following the Panthers Development Camp, GM Dale Tallon had this to say about the possibility of their young players making the team:
They’re going to get an equal opportunity to make our team. I don’t care about age, I don’t care about anything but ability and performance. [Thats] what dictates who plays and who doesn’t
Now this quote can be taken two ways. On one hand it bodes well for younger players like Bjugstad making the team because Tallon is saying they will be making their decisions based on skill and ability alone so things like contract status or NHL experience will not keep an inferior veteran on the roster when there is a more talented prospect behind him. On the other hand if Bjugstad is not performing, Tallon makes it clear that he has no problem going with somebody else. Basically, Tallon is saying every player is going to get a fair shot, nothing more nothing less. The fact that Bjugstad is a 21 year old with only 11 games of experience will not be held against him but at the same time, his age and potential alone will not lock down a roster spot.
Let’s just assume for a minute that Bjugstad will, at some point, be with the Panthers this season. What should we expect from the Minneapolis, Minnesota native? In an interview this week at the US Orientation Camp, Bjugstad stated that his goals for the upcoming season are to first make the team and second, to utilize his size and become a strong two-way forward. It is hard to look at Bjugstad and not be wowed by his height and to this point in his career, size has been his most talked about attribute. At 6’6″ he will be the tallest amongst a group of centers that Tallon refers to as the “giants” up the middle.
Bjugstad’s size and ability have many projecting him as a 20 goal scoring top six forward who physically dominates on both ends of the ice. It may take a couple of season’s before he reaches that level and for the 2013-14 season he will probably receive most of his ice time centering the third or fourth lines. As far as production goes, if he can reach double digit goals, his first full season will be looked back on as a success. Anything more will be gravy.
Do you think Bjugstad will make the Panthers’ opening day roster? Will he be a top two center at some point this season? How much do you think he will produce in his first full season? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and follow The Rat Trick on twitter and Facebook.