Because of Marchessault and Smith’s departure to Vegas, Nick Bjugstad will take on a more prominent role for the Florida Panthers next year.
Bjugstad was a notable major disappointment last season as fans, coaches, management and ownership all had high expectations for a productive 2016-2017 campaign from Nick. Especially considering the acquisitions that ownership brought in to improve the Panthers offense. However, another injury suffered in a preseason game verse the Dallas Stars prevented Bjugstad from getting off to a promising start.
In total, he played in only 54 games while missing 28 games due to groin and hand injuries. Nick is a player that is continuously plagued by injuries on a yearly basis, but when he’s fully healthy, he is a lethal threat to score 5 on 5 and on the man advantage with his overpowering wrist shot.
After compiling years of experience with the same team that originally drafted him in the 1st round, there is no reason to see why he will experience another challenging season as he is familiar with the forward group around him. Bjugstad is definitely a proven scorer that can certainly produce when healthy and coached properly. With new head coach Bob Boughner in charge, his offensive numbers should see a reasonable increase from a year ago. His 14 points in 54 games is something big Nick would like to forget.
He lost a large amount of power-play time, overall minutes, and was constantly being placed on different lines. Because of this, Nick was unable to develop consistent chemistry with whomever he played alongside with. He is a talented player that should be playing on the Cats top 6 due to his prior success and incredible wrist shot. One of the most underrated skill Nick possessed was his ability to crash the net with ease. A lot of his goals game from crashing the net and popping it over the goalie’s shoulder. Unfortunately, it’s a skill big Nick hasn’t used for the past two years.
At times, he is unable to translate his large size into physicality on the ice, which is highly concerning and leads Nick to be perceived as a defensive liability. However, the Panthers continue to believe in Bjugstad, as demonstrated by their protection list. He was one of the four forwards protected by the Cats. Because of this, he will have a lot to prove/show next season. If another disappointing year occurs, it could very well signal a trade out of Florida.
Big Nick contains a great deal of promise and upside at an incredibly young age with plenty of NHL experience under his belt. There are still improvements to be made in his game, as he is still developing into a polished center. With the right system/coaching, Bjugstad can rediscover his old form again. Hard work/determination will need to be found (especially on Nick’s end), if success is to be achieved. The 2017-18 season may very well be his last chance to prove himself.