There’s some irony in former Panthers captain Brian Skrudland being the organization’s director of player development. What Skrudland molded a career from — heart, work ethic — can’t be measured, and the Panthers are loaded with forwards with measurables.
Last week’s first-round pick, 6-3 Aleksander Barkov, along with 6-6 Nick Bjugstad and 6-3 Drew Shore, bring height and hands of scorers. Skrudland had some of the former, none of the latter. Certainly, he didn’t have the hands of Vincent Trocheck, who put up 50 goals and 109 points in 63 Ontario Hockey League games while winning the junior league’s Player of the Year award.
“They’re great players, good people,” Skrudland said. “They work so hard, day in and day out. They work as hard off the ice as they do on the ice. They’re good with the media. We’re feeling really fortunate.”
Bjugstad played 40 games with the University of Minnesota last season, 11 with the Panthers, then joined the U.S. team for the World Championships. He said he liked the long season as part of preparing for the NHL 82-game grind.
“I felt pretty good,” Bjugstad said. “A little lagged, good experience to get out there. My body held up fine, no injuries.”
Bjugstad’s listed weight is 215. Barkov’s is 209. They’re huge compared with Shore’s 190.
“We’ve got to put on some weight,” Bjugstad said. “We’re a little lanky. I don’t know about Sasha [Barkov]. He’s a young kid. I’m sure he’ll put on weight as he gets older.”
“Nick’s a giant,” Skrudland said. “Physically, he’s ready for the National Hockey League. We’ll continue to work on the little aspects of the mental game. He has such great skill and determination.”
Trocheck said, “The one thing they want me to work on is my strength. They want me to get faster, so I’m working on both of those things more than other things, but I’m working on every part of my game to try to improve them.”
That sounds like the early scouting reports on Skrudland. Trocheck is a head-down worker — he says he doesn’t like to read about himself in the media — and leader who stands 5-11 and weighs 180 (officially).
“There’s a special individual there,” Skrudland said. “This guy’s been challenged, and he’s always risen to the challenges. Every day you give him something to work on, boy, oh, boy, you know he’s going to do it. They’re self-motivated as well. It’s guys like Vinny who are going to help the Bjugstads who are going to push the Barkovs. That’s my gut feeling.
“These types of leaders — and they’ve been leaders with their teams for two or three years, it didn’t matter if they were rookies or had two or three years under their belts — they were pushing their teammates to be better every day.”
When Trocheck’s size was brought up, Skrudland said, “You can’t measure the size of a heart, and this kid’s got a big heart.”
Barkov and 2012-13 NHL Rookie of the Year Jonathan Huberdeau sat out Monday’s first day of Panthers developmental camp as they recovered from shoulder and hip surgeries, respectively. Presumably, they will participate in the camp’s off-ice life skills lessons that include learning how to prepare your own meals and clean up properly.
“When you get though one door in this league, what’s waiting for you on the other side but another door,” Skrudland said. “We’re trying to teach that. You see how tough these Stanley Cup playoffs were this past year? We’re trying to get our group ready for September for that exact type of game for 82. Because If that’s the way we have to play to get into the playoffs, that’s the way we want our guys willing to play.”
• The Panthers signed center Jon Matsumoto and defenseman Matt Gilroy to one-year contracts, the team announced Monday.