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.”
Power forward Nick Bjugstad’s transition to the NHL hasn’t gone smoothly.
In his first 10 games for the Florida Panthers, the 6-foot-6 Bjugstad scored no points and earned a minus-9 rating.
He was the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. The Panthers signed Bjugstad after his third season at the University of Minnesota, where he scored 46 goals the in 80 games the past two seasons.
The team opted to keep him in the NHL through the end of the regular season rather than dispatch him to the AHL for seasoning.
“It's nice to get my feet wet for these games,” Bjugstad told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I didn't want to go into the training camp not knowing what to expect at this level, that's why this is a big deal.”
By letting Bjugstad burn the first year of his entry contract this spring, the Panthers are allowing him to reach restricted free agency a year earlier. He said that wasn’t a condition of his signing.
“I was just waiting it out,” Bjugstad said. “I didn't do much talking, but thankfully it worked out the way it did.”
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