It looks like the Florida Panthers' prospect Nick Bjugstad will return to college to play for the University of Minnesota for one more year. What is great news for the Golden Gophers is good news for the Panthers as well. Bjugstad is an exciting prospect that fans want to see in South Florida as soon as possible but another year in college will give him the tools to help him succeed in the NHL.
The Panthers selected Bjugstad in the first round (19th) overall of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Bjugstad is a monster on the ice. The Panthers' website has him listed at 6-6 and 215 pounds. When you see the kid it's hard to remember that he just recently turned 20 years old.
Bjugstad still needs to get some experience under his belt before he jumps to the professional level. He played the full season with the Gophers in 2011-12 but in his freshmen season he only skated in 29 games. His numbers have always been impressive. In his freshmen season he managed to score 20 points and in his sophomore season Bjugstad put up an incredible 42 points in only 40 games. The level of play that he will face in the NHL is much higher than the NCAA but it looks like Bjugstad is well on his way. There's no reason to rush the kid along. He's already committed to the Panthers and one more season in college should help him become a more well-rounded player and team leader.
Leadership on the Ice
Another good skill he will learn with the Gophers is how to win. Last season Bjugstad led his team deep into the NCAA's Frozen Four tournament. The Gophers fell to Boston College in the semifinals but they obviously have the tools to win. Winning isn't taught, it is experienced and if Bjugstad can learn to lead a successful group of men on the ice at Minnesota he will be able to use that experience and skill to win in the NHL.
No Immediate Need
The Cats are pretty well stocked at the center position for the upcoming season. Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc proved to be a formidable one-two punch last year and there's a strong chance that they will be joined next year by Jonathan Huberdeau, another one of the Panthers' hot draft picks. If Bjugstad made the choice to come to the NHL next season he would have likely spent some time with the Panthers' AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage. I'm sure Rampage fans would have loved that scenario but the move wouldn't do anything to help the Panthers next season.
Bjugstad will definitely make his way to the NHL. A player with his size and ability won't stay down for long. But there's no particular rush at the moment. The team and player will both be better off if Bjugstad is allowed to develop at his own rate into the all-star center the Cats hope he will eventually be.
More from this contributor:
All college statistics from GopherSports.com
Kristian Eberwein is a freelance journalist from Orlando, Florida. He was an English major at the University of Central Florida and has been a part of the Florida hockey community for the past twenty years. Follow him on Twitter @KrisEberwein