Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ Nick Bjugstad confident coming into camp

 

Nick Bjugstad, the 19th overall pick in the 2010 draft, said he’s ready to prove himself as the centerpiece the team can build around.

Prospect tournament

Where: Saveology.com Iceplex, 3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs.

Admission: Tickets are free upon registration at floridapanthers.com/trainingcamp.

Sunday’s games: Boston vs. Nashville, noon; Tampa Bay vs. Florida, 4 p.m.


grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Nick Bjugstad whipped through classes at the University of Minnesota in his three years there, but his hockey education truly went into fast-forward mode once he left.

Not long after the Gophers were upset in the opening round of the NCAA tournament by Yale, Bjugstad signed a contract with the Panthers and reported to Florida.

Three days after signing with the Panthers on trade-deadline day, Bjugstad made his NHL debut in Sunrise against the Washington Capitals. Bjugstad ended up scoring his first — and to date, only — NHL goal in Florida’s season finale on April 27 in Tampa.

“It’s good to be a little nervous — it keeps you on your toes,” Bjugstad said after his first practice in Florida on April 5. “I’ll be ready to go. I’m sure the adrenaline will be going.”

Bjugstad played in 11 games at the end of last year’s lost season for the Panthers. At times, Bjugstad looked like he belonged. At others, he looked like he just stepped out of college.

The 19th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Bjugstad is a big center — he’s 6-6 and 225 pounds — the Panthers hope to build around in the future.

Whether that future is this season remains to be seen.

If he doesn’t earn a spot on the big club out of training camp, Bjugstad could start this season in the minor leagues, something he avoided last season by making a quick deal with the Panthers.

“I feel ready for camp,” Bjugstad said before the start of the Panthers’ prospect tournament. “These are obviously a big couple of weeks for me. I have to prove myself.

“There’s a lot of talent in this organization. I think I did a lot to improve myself over the summer. I hope I’m ready. We’ll see.”

Bjugstad believes his experience from last season will benefit him as he battles for a center spot with the Panthers.

Soon after Florida’s season ended, Bjugstad wound up playing for Team USA (along with new Florida teammate Bobby Butler) at the World Championships, recording two assists in 10 games as the U.S. team took bronze.

In August, Bjugstad was invited to Team USA orientation camp.

“Last year helped me learn the type of game you have to play in the NHL as opposed to college,” said Bjugstad, Minnesota’s high school Mr. Hockey in 2010. “That was big for me. I learned a lot last year.”

Florida goes into Thursday’s start of training camp with three of four center spots filled by Shawn Matthias, Marcel Goc and No. 2 overall pick Aleksander Barkov.

“It was a tough situation coming straight out of college and on to a team out of the playoffs,” general manager Dale Tallon said.

“He did play really well in the World Championships and used his experience he gained here. He’s going to be a really good player for us whether it’s this year or next year or whenever.

“He’s going to get his chance here.”

OH, BROTHER

The Panthers had Gudbranson back on defense during prospect camp although it wasn’t their young standout getting physical in the corners.

Instead of Erik Gudbranson throwing his body around at Thursday’s workout and Friday’s game against Nashville, it was free agent invitee Alex Gudbranson.

The younger brother of the Panthers’ Erik, Alex Gudbranson worked out at Detroit’s development camp this summer before getting an invite from the Panthers. Alex will return to his junior team in Sault St. Marie in the coming weeks and hopes to impress after not being selected in the June draft.

“Growing up with [Erik], you have to be tough after all the tussles we were in,” said Alex Gudbranson, who celebrated his 19th birthday Tuesday.

“We both want to win. If you come into my corner, I want the puck more than you do. He has more experience than I do, but I’m looking to learn. Hopefully I can stay here as long as I can and show my stuff. I want to be here in the future.”

Alex Gudbranson is wearing No. 88 during Florida’s prospect tournament this weekend -- double the No. 44 Erik wears for the Panthers.

TOURNAMENT RESULTS

•  Panthers XX, Bruins XX: Words go here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

•  Predators XX, Lightning XX: Words go and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

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