Gophers' Bjugstad Discusses Decision to Stay in School
This was hardly a quiet summer for Nick Bjugstad.
The Gophers junior-to-be spent some a week at the Florida Panthers pro prospect camp. He was a first-round pick of the Panthers in 2010.
"It was my second camp there, so I knew what was going on," Bjugstad said. "It was a good week. I got to know the guys - there were forty guys there - so that was a good part of the camp."
But as he skated with the Panthers prospects, a massive decision hung over him. When he was with the Panthers last summer, there was little doubt he'd return to the Gophers for his sophomore season. This time, it was far from certain.
"My family and I - we thought about it a lot sat around and talked it over. My uncle (9-year NHL-vet and former North Star Scott Bjugstad) played a big part - he's been through it all, so, he had a lot to say about it. But ultimately, I'm 20 years old so they said 'It's up to you'."
"It was kind of a long drawn out decision," he said. " I had to weigh my options and decided staying here was my best place."
It's not rare for a college hockey program and NHL team to be at odds over a player regarded as a top prospect. That wasn't the case this time.
"They completely left it up to me - both teams did," he said. "That was nice to know in the back of my head it was ultimately up to me."
After Panthers camp ended, Bjugstad packed up his things and headed back to Minnesota - announcing he would indeed return for a junior season.
"In the end... it came down to my heart stayed here and I really just didn't want to leave," he said.
Already labeled one of the best players in college hockey - a likely Hobey Baker favorite this winter - Bjugstad is still putting in a lot of time on and off the ice to improve.
Our interview with Bjugstad came as he was preparing for an informal skate with several current and former Gophers. The frequent summertime skates are friendly and loose, but intense.
Asked what he thinks he needs to improve on, Bjugstad smiles... but immediately answers.
"I need to work on my first three steps, get a little quicker," he said.
His mental checklist didn't stop there.
"Decision making, thought process, develop here with my teammates... they'll challenge me in practice."
It's impressive a player many say might be the best at his level would procduce a list of things he feels he needs to work on right off the top of his head.
Despite the fact one national college hockey website lists the Gophers as the preseason #1 team, Bjugstad knows he and his team need to push ahead if they hope to erase the memory of last year's loss in the Frozen Four.
"That was obviously disappointing," he said, as his smile turned to more of a grimace. "It sits in the back of your mind. You don't go a day without thinking about it. That's definitely another reason to stay. We got a lot of guys returning and some good guys coming in, so, hopefully we can put a good ending to the season."
Especially considering it's unlikely he'd be back for a fourth year next winter.
"It's a whirlwind, I feel like I'm still a freshman," he said. "It's going so fast, but that's a good thing. I'm enjoying myself and, enjoying teammates so... this year's going to go just as fast I'm sure so I'm going to have to take it all in."