Nick Bjugstad (Getty Images)
With Nick Bjugstad locked up for the next six seasons, the Panthers have committed to the youth movement and long-term success. Bjugstad is on pace to become Florida’s first 30-goal scorer since David Booth in 2008-09, and his scoring is a sign the young gun is exactly what the Panthers needed.
One of the greatest surprises this season is the play of the Florida Panthers, and a big part of the Panthers success has been Nick Bjugstad. On Tuesday night, Florida rewarded the center, inking him to a six-year, $24.6 million contract extension.
At 22, Bjugstad is once again leading the scoring charge for the Panthers, just one season removed from a 16-goal and 38 point campaign. On pace to better that total by a dozen points – his current play has him set for 31 goals and 50 points – Bjugstad’s looking like the cornerstone of a franchise that’s ready for the next step.
What’s turned things around for the Panthers is their commitment on both sides of the puck, turning stellar defensive play and improved goaltending into the ability to win tight games and make a push for the playoffs. While they may only have 11 regulation or overtime wins, the lowest total of any team with at least 40 points, it’s that they’ve been able to get at least the single point that has made all the difference.
And in turning things around, Bjugstad has been quite the force. While he’s not necessarily the player that drives the bus possession wise – he’s not a Patrice Bergeron, for example – he is forming a formidable trio alongside Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau. If you want to think about what the Panthers have to look forward to, look no further than those three, who have a combined age of 64, or only 12 years more than one Jaromir Jagr.
By committing long-term to Bjugstad, the Panthers are showing their fanbase that this is a team that wants to keep these pieces in place, the young players that can grow to be the face of the franchise, well into the time they’re ready to move on to bigger and brighter things. Bjugstad will play a key roll in the growth of the team, and 6-foot-6 power forwards aren’t easy to come by. It doesn’t hurt that the big forward is also on pace this season to become the Panthers first 30-goal scorer since David Booth notched 31 in 2008-09.
Being so young, too, gives Bjugstad and the rest of the fresh-faced Panthers core to grow together. Aside from Trocheck and Huberdeau, they've also got names like Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, Jimmy Hayes, and Dmitry Kulikov, all budding stars in their own right. Bjugstad may be the big scorer, but putting talent around him makes for a young unit that has incredible potential.
Whatever the next step is in Florida, be it Stanley Cup playoffs this year or possibly next, it’s a positive that Bjugstad will be there. The only way for teams to grow is to find some young stars and latch on early, and if Bjugstad's signing is any indication, it appears the youth movement is in full swing for the Panthers.