Going into the 2013-14 season, it was anybody’s guess if talented young center Nick Bjugstad would begin the season with the Florida Panthers or their AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage after a solid training camp consisting of being Florida’s top point producer in their annual rookie tournament. Bjugstad netted a hat trick against the rookies and led the way with a valiant comeback after trailing 4-0, eventually winning 5-4. All eyes were on Bjugstad, as he would score again against the Tampa Bay Lightning rookies before sustaining a concussion in that game. With this injury, Bjugstad stayed in Florida until his recovery.
Bjugstad made his season debut for the Panthers against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 15, playing on the fourth line. Since then, Bjugstad has seen a lot more of the ice and now finds himself being relied on in a top-six role. Bjugstad has two points (1-1-2) in six games, and while the numbers aren’t overwhelming, it’s not his ability to convert points that has kept him on the team, it’s his size and work on the ice. The towering center has been a force in the faceoff circle, winning 10 out of 16 faceoffs against the Lightning last Sunday. His use of his size and his strong two-way play have impressed the Panthers’ brass enough to keep him on the roster for now.
There is often a learning curve for players coming out of college straight to the NHL, and it is visible when watching the 21year old. He may not be a superstar yet, but he has looked more and more confident in every game he’s played in. Bjugstad, who spent three seasons at the University of Minnesota racking up 98 points (54-44-98) in 109 games, has been seen as a top college prospect since being drafted by Florida in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in the first round (19th overall). The first round pick the Panthers used to select Bjugstad was part of the Nathan Horton trade to Boston, and since then, Bjugstad has been seen as a key piece to the puzzle in South Florida.
If there is a player Bjugstad should try to emulate, it’s Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf. At 6-foot-4, 221 lbs, Getzlaf is a tremendous threat on the ice because of his size, strength, hockey IQ, two-way instincts and loads of skill. Bjugstad, like Getzlaf when he was drafted, is a big centerman with a right-handed shot, tons of potential, and was drafted in the first round at 19th overall. Bjugstad, who stands at 6-foot-6, 215lbs, is still young and could fill out his frame, making him a big but mobile player like Getzlaf. Getzlaf is known for his ability to make big plays and be trusted in all situations. The two-time NHL All-Star, Getzlaf is the type of player that every coach covets. Florida head coach Kevin Dineen has experience coaching that type of player, since he did coach Getzlaf during his time in the AHL as head coach of the Portland Pirates.
Bjugstad doesn’t possess the natural playmaking ability that Getzlaf has, but has a skill set of his own that is impressive for his size. He is more a goal scorer than a playmaker, but does have size to his advantage, and that is something that can’t be taught and is one of the big reasons he’s on the Panthers roster. He adds size to the lineup, something the Panthers lack. Bjugstad may not become a player of Getzlaf’s caliber, and the point to be made here is not that he will be the next Getzlaf, but rather a player cut from that cloth.
Bjugstad will look to hone his craft in the show and begin to develop his own style. Bjugstad has got a lot of development ahead of him still, but if he continues to play the way he has been, he is going to keep a job in Florida this season.