Florida Panthers’ Nick Bjugstad takes his demotion in stride
04/03/2014 12:01 AM
04/03/2014 1:23 AM
Nick Bjugstad isn’t used to being demoted, his play rarely questioned by a coach through his years of playing hockey.
Perhaps, then, that is the point Panthers’ coach Peter Horachek is making.
Bjugstad, a top hockey prospect since his pre-teens, had a pair of assists in Florida’s loss at New Jersey on Monday yet saw his playing time cut, his spot on Florida’s top line taken away and less power play time.
“The reasoning comes down to play. It wasn’t very good,” Horachek said. “He turned the pucks over at the wrong time and wrong place. He’s a young player who makes mistakes at times. When you’re trying to get yourself back into the game, you got to go with the guys who are going.”
When the Panthers played the Islanders on Tuesday, Bjugstad’s demotion remained in effect.
Scott Gomez, perhaps in his final NHL season, was moved up to Bjugstad’s spot on Monday and remained there the following night.
Bjugstad, who became the fourth rookie in Panthers history to record 20 assists in a season, has seemingly taken the news in stride.
When asked about his new role with the Panthers, Bjugstad sat up and faced the media like a seasoned vet. Considering he’s been dealing with local scribes since he was a high school star in Minnesota before centering top lines at hockey-mad University of Minnesota, that’s not too surprising.
“You can’t worry too much about it,’’ said Bjugstad, whose Gophers are playing in the NCAA’s Frozen Four championships. “I didn’t play that great [Monday] and sometimes you deserve to get bumped down a little bit. I understand his move, but I have to keep working through it and stay positive.’’
At this time last year, Bjugstad was just getting his feet wet in the NHL. The Panthers made a deal with Bjugstad and his agent, signing him to a contract and allowing him to spend the final 11 games of the season at the big-league level.
Sure, Bjugstad burned a year of his entry level contract that way, but had he stayed at Minnesota for his senior year, he could have refused to sign with the Panthers and been lost as a free agent later this summer.
Those 11 games were seemingly pretty good for Bjugstad as he got to see firsthand what it was going to take to play in the NHL.
This year, Bjugstad has 14 goals and 21 assists in 71 games, tied for the team lead in scoring.
“You either correct them on the ice or you take away some icetime,’’ Horachek said. “For Bjugstad, there’s no selfishness here. He just needs to learn, get experience more than anything else. I think it’s just time he sits back and recognizes he needs to do a better job.’’
Last hurrah• Goalie Scott Clemmensen said he went into Tuesday’s game thinking about it not only being his final game with the Panthers, but perhaps as an NHL goalie.
Clemmensen, 36, has spent five seasons with Florida but almost certainly won’t be back for a sixth.
“Regardless of what happened, I went out there to have fun whether it’s my last game or not,’’ Clemmensen said. “I’m going day-to-day and taking my opportunities as they come.’’
Although Horachek said Roberto Luongo would be ready to play Florida’s final five games of the season starting Friday, he was less committal to that on Tuesday.
Clemmensen stays with the Panthers if Luongo is still out, so, who knows? Maybe Tuesday wasn’t it after all.
“I expect him to be practicing with us but with us here, I’m not sure if he’ll be playing,’’ Horachek said.
This and that• Defenseman Jonathan Racine was sent back to the minors one day after he made his NHL debut on Tuesday.
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