Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ Nick Bjugstad ready to build on strong season

Florida Panthers' Shane O'Brien (74) and Tampa Bay Lightning Ryan Callahan (24) fight for the puck during the first period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Florida Panthers' Shane O'Brien (74) and Tampa Bay Lightning Ryan Callahan (24) fight for the puck during the first period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. AP

Hard to believe, but this is Nick Bjugstad’s first real training camp with the Panthers.

Bjugstad missed all of camp last year after sustaining a concussion during Florida’s prospect camp.

Despite missing the first month of the season, Bjugstad made the most of his time with the Panthers.

In 76 games, he scored 16 goals and had 38 points to end up being the team’s leading scorer in his rookie season.

“You can’t get too ahead of yourself,’’ Bjugstad said before Florida’s 3-0 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at BB&T Center on Thursday.

“There’s always room for improvement no matter who you are. The confidence from playing last year and knowing what it takes helps. I know what it’s like to play 70-something games, so I know how to pace myself more so than last year.’’

Scoring, as usual, will probably be a problem for the Panthers this season. Bjugstad is being counted on to help out.

Last year, Bjugstad looked to be headed to the minors out of training camp. But when he was cleared, Florida was so desperate for goals it kept him with the big club.

The University of Minnesota product didn’t end up going to the minors — and he probably never will.

On Thursday, Bjugstad centered Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes. With Aleksander Barkov out for the second half of last season, Bjugstad became Florida’s top-line center. If he’s not that this year, he’s close to it.

“I’m looking forward to playing in all 82 games this year,’’ he said. “We’ll see how it goes.’’

THURSDAY’S GAME

Florida remained winless this preseason (0-3-2) after the Lighting (4-1) outshot the host Panthers 33-21 at BB&T Center.

Goalie Roberto Luongo made 30 saves with Ondrej Palat scoring in the first period and Nikita Kucherov icing it in the third. The Lightning added an empty net goal with 1:09 left.

The two teams conclude the preseason Saturday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

▪ Florida lost defenseman Dmitry Kulikov early in Thursday’s game after he got hit in the foot with a shot on just his second shift of the night.

Kulikov briefly returned to the game but left after a short shift. He is not expected to miss any additional action.

▪ Coach Gerard Gallant said he will name a captain before the season starts next week. Florida is without a captain since buying out the final year of Ed Jovanovski’s contract in June.

“We’re picking a captain as an organization, but the players are a big part of that as well,’’ Gallant said. “We’ll get through the process soon and have someone named before the first game. Coaches can’t do it all; guys have to take care of the locker room and we have some real good ones.’’

Although Luongo served as captain for a time in Vancouver, it’s rare to see a goalie hold the position and Gallant dismissed it as an option on Thursday.

“Goalies can’t be captains,’’ he said. “He has to focus on playing the game, working the crease.’’

▪ The Panthers are expected to make further cuts on Friday and be close to their opening night number of 23 before Saturday’s preseason finale in Tampa.

COMING UP

▪ Friday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, 11 a.m.

▪ Saturday: Preseason finale at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments