Signing A Big Piece Of The Future

Signed to entry level deals, Bjugstad and Racine look to make jump with the center set to make NHL debut after college career.

Wednesday, 04.03.2013 / 5:50 PM
Glenn Odebralski  - FloridaPanthers.com

The Florida Panthers "future" will have a new addition to the "present" come Saturday as forward Nick Bjugstad will join the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson and Jacob Markstrom when he suits up in his first NHL game as the Cats battle the Capitals.

"It is pretty exciting and surreal," said Bjugstad via phone as he prepared to make the trek from Minnesota to South Florida. "It will be really fun on Saturday."

A slow day on the trade front on trade deadline day, the Panthers instead focused on locking up some of their future pieces as they not only added Bjugstad but defenseman Jonathan Racine to the mix in the organization as they signed the duo to three-year entry level contracts.

The big story obviously centered around the Panthers new big pivot.

"This guy is 6’6” 220 lbs and he’s only 20 years old," said Tallon. "Once he fills out and becomes a man, once (Erik) Gudbranson fills out and becomes a man and (Quinton) Howden does the same, we’re going to have some size, speed and some skill.”

The big news Wednesday obviously centered around Bjugstad, who decided to leave the University of Minnesota with a year of eligibility left to turn pro. The center had returned for his junior season to chase a National title dream but it ended with a shocking overtime loss to the Yale Bulldogs in the West Regional semifinals.

"There’s eleven games left (in our season). It’s a good learning experience for him, a good learning curve and if he performs well it makes it that much easier for him in training camp next year," said Tallon. "It’s a good chance for us to evaluate him and gain some valuable experience in a shortened season."

"It didn't end how I wanted it to," said Bjugstad. "But I felt this was best for my development (in making the jump)."

Bjugstad was in the top ten in the nation in goal scoring in each of the last two seasons, posting 25 (tied for fifth) in 2011-12 and 21 (tied for eighth) this season and the Panthers are excited to add his ability to the lineup.

The forward led Minnesota to three NCAA post-season appearances, including a spot in the Frozen Four semifinals in 2012 before falling to eventual champion Boston College.

Panthers fans can certainly get excited as adding Bjugstad to the lineup starting against the Capitals. His addition means that all three first rounders from the 2010 draft (Tallon's first as Florida's GM) will be in the lineup with Gudbranson (3rd), Bjugstad (19th) and Quinton Howden (25th) all sprinkled into the Cats lineup along with 2011 3rd overall pick and current NHL rookie scoring leader Jonathan Huberdeau.

"Time flies, when you’re having fun," said Tallon on the prospects of seeing all three of his 2010 first round picks in the lineup. "This is an exciting time for our franchise"

Bjugtad will join the team for his first practice Friday and he'll get quickly acclimated as he prepares to make his NHL debut.

"It has been a hectic day, but I'm packed and thankful for opportunity I'm getting," said Bjugstad.

"It’s an exciting time for our franchise. To see these young guys," said Tallon. "It’s going to take us a little more time but it’s going to be exciting for all of us."

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