Nick Bjugstad was back on the ice Tuesday morning with new linemates and a new position.
After missing most of the first two months of the season, Bjugstad will be back in the lineup for the Florida Panthers on Tuesday against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers (7:30, BB&T Center, FSFL).
Although Bjugstad will return to Florida’s third line, he won’t be centering it.
Rookie Denis Malgin, 19, will remain at center with Bjugstad moving from his natural position to the wing alongside Colton Sceviour.
Bjugstad, who has only played wing briefly in his time with the Panthers, says he has been impressed with Malgin and is "excited" to play with him and will "try hard to get open."
"I woke up with a jump in my step," Bjugstad said after Tuesday’s morning skate. "It has been a long time and obviously I have been watching all the games.
"I’m sick of watching, although they have been fun to watch as of late. It will be fun to join them at this point."
The Panthers are extremely high on Malgin – and for good reason.
After the thought was Malgin could start the season with Florida’s minor league team in Springfield, Massachusetts, his strong play beginning with development camp over the summer turned plenty of heads.
When Bjugstad went down with what he now says is an injured wrist after going into the goal cage during an exhibition game in Dallas, Malgin slid into Bjugstad’s slot centering the third line and has been terrific.
Through his first 19 NHL games, Malgin has four goals and eight points.
On Tuesday, Malgin said he was excited for the opportunity to not only continue centering that line but the chance to get things rolling with Bjugstad and Sceviour.
"It’s great that he’s back for us, he’s such an important player for us and I’m excited to be able to play alongside him," Malgin said. "I think this is going to be a good line, we can all score. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to do everything I can to get [Bjugstad] involved in the game. I’m really looking forward to playing with them."
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "We’re going to start him on the wing, something we have talked about the past couple of years. We’ll give him a shot; he’s a big, powerful guy who skates well. We will throw him in with Malgin. …
"I think Bjugstad is one of the top players on our team. When he’s going, there aren’t many better players in the league with his size and speed down the wing. We’re looking forward to this."
Bjugstad missed Florida’s final game last season after being hurt in overtime of Florida’s Game 5 loss to the Islanders with coaches saying he may have been able to return had there been a Game 7.
After a long and hard offseason, Bjugstad was ready to come back and start his season off strong.
Then came the injury in Dallas.
Because of the nature of the injury, Bjugstad has been able to skate since being hurt which should help him acclimate himself quicker into the flow of the game.
Bjugstad has been practicing with the Panthers for the past few weeks and traveled with the team on its recent four-game road trip.
After being medically cleared to play on Monday, Bjugstad says he’s more than ready to get things going on Tuesday.
"No player wants to get injured," he said. "I think everyone says this when they return, but you do appreciate the game a little more. I definitely appreciate it.
"I had a long summer of training and it was extended with the injury. There’s not much you can do about it but stay positive. I tried to do that every day. I was on my skates every day. I should be in shape, should have my legs."
▪ While the Panthers got Bjugstad back, they got bad news Monday as defenseman Alex Petrovic needed surgery after getting hurt blocking a shot last week in Montreal. Petrovic was out Thursday against Toronto and was sent back to South Florida from Canada.
The Panthers say Petrovic will miss the next two months.
"He had the surgery this morning," Gallant said. "It’s too bad because he has played really well for us."
Florida recalled Jakub Kindl from AHL Springfield on Friday and he played in the next two games upon his arrival.
Kindl is back in the lineup Tuesday with Dylan McIlrath – who made his Florida debut in Toronto after coming over from the Rangers in the Steven Kampfer deal – a healthy scratch for a third consecutive game.