Hello again Litter Box Cats. I'm back with another weekly report on the Minnesota Golden Gophers NHL prospects and there is both good and bad news. The bad news is that this write-up on Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau is not the most positive one of the weekend; that goes to Colorado. The good news is that it's a close second and both players were outstanding in sweeping the defending national champion Minnesota Duluth on the road.
More after the jump.Minnesota opened WCHA play this weekend with two 5-4 victories against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Friday's game was an overtime thriller which featured a late comeback by the Gopher hockey team after Duluth with two minutes left. Saturday's game ended up being a sloppy affair where Minnesota's power play shined and their defense withstood a late Bulldog charge. Bjugstad and Rau played in both games this weekend with Nick picking up a goal and four assists and Kyle scoring three goals and ringing another shot off the post.
Once again, Rau and Bjugstad played together on the same line with Zach Budish (NSH) and on the first power play unit with freshman Sam Warning. However, they were separated a few times Friday night after Budish was ejected for a checking from behind penalty as Coach Don Lucia was forced to mix lines. While the Rau - Bjugstad - Budish line was not as good as last week against Sacred Heart, both Kyle and Nick were able to thrive on the power play.
All three of Kyle Rau's goals - two on Friday night and one on Saturday which ended up being the game-winner - were scored with the man advantage as the Gophers went 6 for 9 on the power play this weekend. The surprising thing about it was how all three goals came from a combined distance of ten feet. Despite only being 5'8" and a true freshman out of Minnesota HS hockey, he's not afraid to get dirty and crash the net. Two of the three goals were created from just being on the doorstep and reading the penalty kill right. He wasn't always successful and was out of position a couple times, but it is still a skill I haven't seen from most freshmen, let alone a player the size of Kyle.
Another aspect of Rau's game which was on display this weekend was his defensive side. Although there were a few times where he would be out of position, Kyle was able to use his speed to backcheck and break up Minnesota Duluth odd-man rushes.
Nick Bjugstad was the less noticeable Panthers prospect this weekend but he still made himself known. Last year's first round pick (well one of them) had five points in a weekend where the Gophers scored ten goals but three of the four assists were secondary. One of the assists came on a play where I'm not sure he touched the puck.
However, Bjugstad's one goal was a big one as he scored going around Brady Lamb and roofing a backhand 1:10 into the second period Saturday night to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead. This was despite the Gophers only having five shots at the time.
Nick was also able to make his mark off the score sheet. He played a vital role using his size on the Minnesota penalty kill, which had to kill eleven penalties this weekend. He's been used in every role and the sophomore was relied on to be a calming force and to help break a suffocating Bulldogs forecheck.
It was a good weekend for the two Panthers prospects in Duluth and the Gophers took home four points there for the first time since 2000. Next weekend Minnesota hosts the University of Vermon and I'll be there covering the team along with getting an opportunity to view Connor Brickley.