Florida Panthers Season in Review: Nick Bjugstad
The former Golden Gopher has solidified himself as a top six forward at the NHL level. What can we expect from him in 2015-2016?
The second player we are looking at in our Season in Review is big-bodied center Nick Bjugstad, who had a great sophomore campaign and showed lots of potential to build on for next year. Though he needed surgery at the end of the season, he did sign a contract to stay in South Florida for the next six years, and will hopefully come into camp healthy and ready to play.
Bjugstad is a prototypical power forward, who uses his size, speed, and skill to control the puck and take it to the net. He can either power his way through the opposition while in the offensive zone...
or on the rush.
He also has a laser for a shot, and was one of the team's more accurate shooters over the course of the season.
Big Nick also made a name for himself by scoring from the goal line, something that may or may not continue as goalies come to expect this surprising type of shot from him.
Bjugstad doesn't have great passing skills, so he usually skates the puck out of danger. He's got a high enough gear to leave opponents in the dust, and to make defensemen back off of him as he enters the zone.
Though Bjugstad has good offensive skills, his offensive awareness is sometimes lacking. He has a great nose for the net, but when there isn't a clear lane to the net, he may try to force the play, or make questionable decisions with the puck. He also has a tendency to drift when the puck isn't on his stick, instead of trying to make himself open for a pass.
We also see this when Bjugstad isn't the one skating the puck out of the zone. Instead of making himself open for a pass, he sometimes strays into areas where he's covered, or he stays to close his defenseman.
On defense, he can sometimes be inactive, even if he is in the right position. Though this lack of movement isn't necessarily bad, it does mean that he isn't pressuring the puck carrier as often as one would like.
Overall, Bjugstad is one of the team's brightest young stars. Though he needs to continue to work on his defense, the offensive part of his game is top notch and will most likely result in him potentially being one of the better goal scorers in the league when he hits his prime.
Though Bjugstad's body type would make it seem as though he dominates puck possession, the numbers tell a much different story. Given that he is slightly negative in terms of shot attempts, but slightly positive in scoring chances, his true talent level is probably as a break even player; not exactly something a team would want from one of their top two centers.
His dCorsi number is particularly surprising, as he massively under-performed expectations this season. It's rather clear that his poor numbers stem from defensive issues, as he generates shots at a second line caliber, but gives up shots as though he was a lower end third liner. (Here's his HERO Chart, for a good visual of this.) As a result, his usage as the team's second line center was too much for the young goal-scorer; perhaps he needs to be sheltered a bit more in 2015-2016.
For those wondering, some of the issues in Bjugstad's numbers don't stem from his injury. Here's his 20-game rolling SAT% numbers; he's actually a positive player near the end of the season, right around when the injury seemed to be plaguing him the most.
If we look back to our breakdown of the team's passing stats, we can see that Bjugstad is definitely one of the best players on the team, offensively. Though he may not distribute the puck as well as some of the other players, he's generating shot attempts and scoring chances at a high rate. Because he creates so much on his own stick, he's involved in a good percentage of the shot attempts while he's on the ice, and it could be said that he drives offensive production while on the ice.
In terms of scoring chances, Bjugstad produces the second most on the team, behind only Jaromir Jagr. His ability to get close to the net, or to create space on the rush, results in lots of scoring chance opportunities.
Given that the team already has Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck as distributors, it's good that Bjugstad is a goal scorer. That type of diversity within the lines will make matchups difficult for opponents for years to come.
Though its taken some time, 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.
(statistics taken from war-on-ice.com and ILWT.com. HERO chart taken from ownthepuck.com Possession metrics are score adjusted and at 5 on 5, while passing statistics are at 5 on 5)