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Florida Panthers Top 25 Under 25: #2 Nick Bjugstad

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The former Golden Gopher has quickly gone from prized prospect to cornerstone piece.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Bjugstad

Position: Center

Birthdate: 07/17/1992 (23)

Acquired: 1st round selection (#19 overall) 2010 NHL Entry Draft

2014-15 Team/League: Florida Panthers (NHL)

Stats:

GP G A PTS PIM +/-
72 24 19 43 38 -7

Nationality: American

Size: 6'6"; 215 lbs.

Contract Status: Signed through the 2020-21 season ($4.1 million AAV)

The second of Florida's two first-rounders in the 2010 draft, Nick Bjugstad was selected by the Panthers after a stellar senior season at Blaine High School that saw him named Minnesota's Mr. Hockey, the honor going to the state's best high school hockey player. After the draft, Bjugstad enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where broke the 20-goal barrier as a sophomore and junior. After leaving school, and signing his ELC, Bjugstad played 11 late-season games with Cats, scoring his first pro goal, and suited up for Team USA at the IIHF World Championships. That was all the seasoning he needed to cement a full-time roster spot.

From Hockey's Future:

Bjugstad is a physically dominating presence. His combination of strength and positional awareness with a hard, accurate shot makes him a force at both ends of the ice. Bjugstad plays with poise and he protects the puck exceptionally well in the offense zone by either skating out of trouble or simply shielding opponents with his arms and legs while he buys time to find an open teammate. He can be very difficult to knock off the puck and rarely loses battles along the boards.

From LBC's Season in Review:

Nick Bjugstad has emerged as a top-six forward at the NHL level, and all but guaranteed that he will be the team's second line center at the start of the season. His offensive prowess and skill level have him producing scoring chances and goals at a rate that is already close to that of a first liner, and hopefully that trend will continue through 2015-2016.

That being said, there are aspects of his game that still need work. He can get lazy on defense, and though he keeps himself in position, he consistently allows his opponents to maintain control of the puck, even if he could have made an attempt to steal it from them.

That aggressiveness can be taught, however, and Bjugstad's natural offensive skills mean that the team will have a solid number two center to play behind Aleksander Barkov for years to come. - Shane O'Donnell

After suffering a head injury during prospects camp, Bjugstad played in 72 games for the Panthers during his rookie season. The big-bodied center scored 16 goals and led the team in scoring with 38 points. Last year, he continued to be strong in face-off circle and bagged a career-high 24 goals and 43 points in 76 games, despite being hampered by a back injury that cost him some game at the end of the season.

On December 31, 2014, the Cats awarded Bjugstad for his strong performance during the early stages of career by signing him to a six-year extension. Blessed with size, a deadly shot, and a uncanny knack for scoring from near-impossible angles, the former Golden Gopher will anchor one of the club's top-two lines for the foreseeable future. It's too early to call him injury prone, he has only missed sixteen games in two seasons, but the young pivot has had to deal with a couple serious issues already. Here's hoping Big Nick is 100% healthy and can give the Cats a full 82 games in 2015-16. If that's indeed the case, we should see 25-30 goals, and if he has Brandon Pirri on his wing, a new career-high in assists.

Where We Voted for Bjugstad

Shane Todd JC Kevin Donny
4 3 3 2 2

Who We Voted 2nd

Shane Todd JC Kevin Donny
Aaron Ekblad Jonathan Huberdeau Aleksander Barkov Nick Bjugstad

Nick Bjugstad