Florida Panthers: The Unanticipated Resurgence of Nick Bjugstad

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 1: Nick Bjugstad
SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 1: Nick Bjugstad /

Following numerous relatively catastrophic seasons as a heavily scrutinized Florida Panther, Nick Bjugstad has indubitably rekindled his scoring touch in the 2017-18 season, lighting the lamp ever so consistently.

Nick Bjugstad, a 25-year-old American winger, entered the 2017-18 season with astronomical expectations, considering general manager Dale Tallon was openly expressive regarding Nick’s abilities of becoming a successful player – sustainable success was the Cats’ glaring concern regarding Bjugy.

Dale’s confidence level pertaining with Bjugstad’s capabilities of gradually ascending were relatively consistent; hence, explaining Dale’s controversial decision in retaining Bjugstad’s services during the expansion draft process. Currently, Nick has passed his career-high in both assists (28) and points (45).

In 71 regular season contests thus far, Nick Bjugstad has compiled an utterly impressive slash line of 17G, 28A and 45 points, while averaging 15:06 TOI nightly. Since Bob Boughner shockingly slotted “Big Nick” on the team’s 1st line, Bjugy’s numbers have soared drastically.

Bjugstad developed instantaneous chemistry with tremendously talented forwards Evgeni Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov, upon becoming moved onto FLA’s deadly 1st line. Additionally, Nick has participated in all regular season games, thus conveying durability isn’t necessarily a question mark anymore.

Fans were pressuring Tallon in efforts of potentially shipping away the inconsistent Bjugstad; however, Nick has proven those doubters wrong, consistently dominating the opposition on a game-by-game basis.

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Standing at an intimidating 6’6ft frame and weighing roughly 218lbs, Nick has finally began utilizing his upper-body strength, bullying countless defenders in the offensive zone, resulting in a plethora of high-quality scoring opportunities.

Essentially, Nick’s dominant play since the all-star break has secured a permanent spot on the first line. Earlier on, in a losing effort versus the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning squad, Bjugstad single-handedly almost propelled the surging Cats over Tampa, scoring career hat-trick #1.

Against the divisional opponent Boston Bruins, Nick Bjugstad played an influential role, contributing 2 points (1 goal and 1 assist) in a 3-0 statement victory, keeping Florida’s playoff aspirations alive. Hence, demonstrating Nick’s on-ice success is unquestionably contributing to overall team success, as well.

With 3 years remaining on Nick’s extensive contract, Bjugy’s cap-hit of $4.1 million per year appears as a bargain, especially if Nick continues playing exceptionally well. Moreover, Bob Boughner distributed significantly more minutes for Bjugstad, predominantly because Nick has strengthened his overall style of play, both defensively and offensively. I attended the EDM vs. FLA clash on Saturday, March 17th, keeping a vigilant eye on Nick Bjugstad throughout the course of the matinée affair.

Quite frankly, I was incredibly impressed with Bjugstad’s play, especially on the defensive end. On numerous occasions, Bjugstad hustled from end-to-end, covering beautifully for any Panthers’ defenseman jumping up offensively.

On several instances, Bjugstad stripped the puck from Connor McDavid, conveying Nick’s unafraid of the daunting challenge of facing the game’s most elite, dynamic playmakers such as “McJesus.”

In addition, Nick has notably improved in alternative statistical categories. Firstly, Nick’s face-off percentage has experienced a dramatic increase, jumping 4 percentage points upwards in the span of 1 year (48% to 52%).

Furthermore, Bjugy’s plus-minus has boosted from -19 (2017) to +3 (2018) – a 22 point spiral! Throughout the course of Bjugy’s mediocre career, a season in which Nick finished with a positive plus-minus rating hasn’t occurred, surprisingly enough. More impressively, Bjugstad’s even-strength game has elevated, scoring all 16 goals 5-on-5 and notching 22/28 assists on even-strength.

Next: Reviewing Roberto Luongo’s Impressive Run

Overall, the Florida Panthers organization and fans should be overly ecstatic with Nick Bjugstad’s bounce-back season, considering the Cats wouldn’t have ascended up the standings without Bjugy’s contributions on a nightly basis. Entering the prime of his pro-hockey career (turning 26 in July), Nick Bjugstad will undeniably become an incredibly essential building block in Dale Tallon’s foundation of promising, all-star caliber players.