Last year, one of the focuses of the Florida Panthers offseason was finding some solid wingers to accompany Nick Bjugstad. Well now about a year after, the Cats still may be looking for one more since Colton Sceviour has fit nicely in his personal fourth line role.
At least there’s a starting point this time, as Jonathan Marchessault is coming off of a phenomenal season. Assuming he makes his home on the third line next season with Bjugstad, the Panthers will have their work cut out for them.
The obvious avenues would be free agency and trade. A guy like Patrick Eaves would make some sense as well as accompany the power play well.
They could also go a more cost and organization friendly route depending on who impresses in camp. With the recent signings of Henrik Haapala and Maxim Mamin, those two could definitely compete for that spot. You also have Dryden Hunt as an available option in Springfield, but it would ultimately be choosing from a depleted pool.
Could a move to the wing be in the books for Bjugy? I believe the possibility is there as he has experience playing on the wing, with a little success. He’d have to do some brushing up with his positioning as last year he seemed lost at times as a winger.
It would also make room for centers like Denis Malgin, Jayce Hawryluk and Jared McCann, who could make a push for the roster come training camp. On the other hand, it would be unfortunate to lose his 6’6 frame down the middle and in front of the net.
If moving him to the wing means Bjugstad on the top line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, then count me in. However I don’t see his production making any kind of substantial leap if it means playing him on the same third line, just as a winger instead.
Whatever the case may be, a pivotal factor to Bjugstad’s success will be staying healthy. Ever since undergoing back surgery late in the 2014-15 season, he hasn’t had the best of luck.
He’d miss time in parts of the last 2 seasons, throughout that time we’ve only seen slight flashes of how good we know “Big Nick” can be. Getting him back to a 40 point pace shouldn’t be as difficult if he can play 75-82 games.
Considering Bjugstad only played 67 games in 2015-16 and still put up 34 points (15 G 19 A), he may have fell victim to the offensive woes of last season. That’s not to mention his average ice time took almost a 2 minute hit in comparison.
I’m pretty sure the Panthers will evaluate all their options and make sure Bjugstad can start confident, and on a clean slate in 2017. He’s a natural scorer around the net and will need that confidence back this season.