Life was already tough for the Florida Panthers.
They staggered through this season as one of the NHL’s biggest disappointments. They fell out of the Eastern Conference playoff race in a hurry.
New ownership complained that the franchise is losing staggering sums of money, casting doubt about its viability in South Florida. Then forwards Aleksander Barkov (knee) and Tomas Kopecky (concussion) suffered injuries at the Olympics.
So the Panthers will sell off a few veterans before the trade deadline and take longer looks at more young players. One of them, rookie center Nick Bjugstad, will assume a bigger role because of the injuries.
He is playing center on the top line between Brad Boyes (one of the team’s top trade chips) and Sean Bergenheim.
“He's done a good job so that's a natural progression for him, so we'll see,” coach Peter Horachek told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Having depth in the middle is important. We got some with Bjugstad, [Scott] Gomez, [Marcel] Goc, [Shawn] Matthias and [Drew] Shore. We got some flexibility now.'”
Bjugstad, 21, has had a solid season, scoring 13 goals and earning 10 assists in 52 games. His transition to the NHL has gone smoothly.
“There's been unexpected things this season, both good and bad,” Bjugstad told the Sun-Sentinel. “It's tough to see Barky go out, he's been a great player for us so we have to bounce back and use our depth. Guys will be taking new roles and will have to step up.”