The Dinkytown exodus continues with junior forward Nick Bjugstad being the latest University of Minnesota player to leave a year early.
Bjugstad, a first round pick by Florida in 2010, has signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers and will forego his final year of eligibility with the Gophers. The news was confirmed by both the Panthers and University.
"Nick is certainly ready to take his game to the next level," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said in a statememt released by the school. "We appreciate his loyalty and dedication to Gopher hockey. He has grown a lot in his three seasons with the program, and he clearly has a bright future ahead of him."
The 6'6", 220 lbs forward has been the team's leading goal scorer the last two seasons.
"I loved every minute of my time here, and I am thankful for the opportunity to play for the Gophers," Bjugstad said
He joins teammates Nate Schmidt (Washington) and Zach Budish (Nashville) in turning pro after the Gophers were upset 3-2 by Yale in the first round of the NCAA Hockey Tournament.
Nick came to Minnesota after accelerating his high school studies and got off to a rough start. He took a checking from behind penalty in his first game and soon contracted mono. Bjugstad came back, however, and finished the year with 20 points in 29 games. Last year he scored 25 goals en route to a Frozen Four appearance.
This year, Bjugstad led the Gophers with 21 goals (36 points overall) and was their number one option on the power play. Spending most of the last two years with fellow Panthers draft pick Kyle Rau, the two have developed chemistry and were consistent. Bjugstad went over 2 years without a 3-game pointless streak
Nick can score yet that isn't his whole game. The junior plays in all situations. He was one of the face-off men in the country this season and
He also had an eye to working on the little aspects of his individual game that didn't show up on the stat sheet. One of those was playing more physically.
"I try to stick with it. I play with Kyle (Rau), and he's pretty physical," Bjugstad told me about trying to add an edge to his game back in February. "Obviously you need to play physical if you're trying to play in the upper levels. I'm still trying to do that, try to bear down at the end of the season and make sure.
"If I'm going to make the jump eventually, I know that's going to be one of my roles."
It appears eventually is now.
You can follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.