Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bjugstad Returns to Minnesota; Good or Bad?

2010 1st round pick Nick Bjugstad announced earlier this week that he has decided to return to the University of Minnesota for his junior season with the Golden Gophers. 

The soon to be 20-year-old told Florida media that he hopes to get his degree at the end of the year much like St. Louis defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk did in 3 years at Boston University.

I think it's great that Bjugstad is finishing what he started in regard to his academics and I would never criticize a guy for completing his education. But looking at it strictly from a hockey perspective, I wonder if it could potentially be a poor choice.

On Saturday's edition of The Pipeline Show, I asked Florida's Director of Player Development, Brian Skrudland, for his opinion.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon was quoted as suggesting that there could be 2-3 openings for rookies in the NHL roster in 2012-13 and Bjugstad, along with Jonathan Huberdeau, Quinton Howden and Alex Petrovic, would have to be considered the front runners for those jobs.  

At 6'6 and 220 lbs, there is no doubt that the big center is physically ready for the next level. Bjugstad scored 25 goals and 42 points for the Gophers last year in 42 games - some of them playing at less than 100% because of a shoulder injury. 

Bjugstad will return to a Gophers team that will be a WCHA favorite and quite possibly a top 5 team in the nation. Goaltending for the Gophers will be a question mark but every other position is strong and the return of Bjugstad just reinforces that even more. 

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn
The question I have though is whether it could conceivably be a negative thing for his development to return to the NCAA ranks. Can his progress stagnate, or even regress, playing at a level that in many ways, he is already a dominant player?

I'm not sure so I asked Brian Skrudland the question to see if the Panthers organization shared the same concern. 

"Well... that is a concern," Skrudland admitted, "But when you've got such a quality organization as [the University of] Minnesota has provided there... the off ice strength and conditioning coach, Cal Dietz, has done a fabulous job with Nick. There are a lot of positive things about him going back. The only negative is that he won't be wearing a Panthers jersey and helping us score some goals next year."

"It's an opportunity for him to finish something that he started and we love that as far as the character of the person," continued Skrudland, "And it's an opportunity to go back and maybe win the Hobey Baker and hopefully a national championship as well."  

Clearly the Panthers are supportive in Bjugstad's decision which is great to hear as well. 

Photo: College Hockey Inc.
The Minnesota native represented his country at a pair of World Junior tournaments including the most recent, 2012 in Edmonton. It was a disappointing event for the Americans but Bjugstad, playing injured, still managed to be a point per game player.  

I'm still not totally convinced that it's the best thing for his hockey development but I also don't know that it's really going to hurt him all that much either. Bjugstad is a first class individual and a high end prospect who will be one of the top collegiate players to watch in 2012-13.

Gopher fans are obviously ecstatic and while Panthers faithful may be a little disappointed right now, they won't have to wait much longer for Nick Bjugstad to make his mark in the NHL.    


slopitch said...

Does he project to be a 2way forward, #1C with offense? Curious what type of upside he has...

slopitch said...

What type of player does he project to be?

2 way 2nd or 3rd liner


Guy Flaming said...

I would suggest that Florida sees him as a top 6, offensive center.