If you were to ask someone to describe this past season for Nick Bjugstad in two words or less, it’s unlikely you’d get “sophomore slump” as a response, and with good reason, too. Bjugstad was just as dominant during his second full season in the NHL and then some. Come along with us as we take a look at the 2014-15 campaign of Florida’s sharp-shooting center.
Nick Bjugstad started off the 2014-15 season as the Panthers’ second line center, in between Scottie Upshall and Brad Boyes. Over the course of the season, however, Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri soon found a home on Bjugstad’s line after their offensive production prevented head coach Gerard Gallant from having them watch from the press box. Bjugstad had a slow start to the season, and after leading the team in points with 38 the previous year, he put up just three (2g, 1a) in his first 13 games. His first goal of the season came against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 6th when tapped home a rebound which came off a Jimmy Hayes wrist shot. His first assist came two weeks prior against Colorado when he fed the puck to Dylan Olsen at the blue-line, whose ensuing wrist shot was deflected into the net by Sean Bergenheim.
Bjugstad broke out offensively on November 16th when the Panthers routed the Anaheim Ducks thanks to the first 4 point night of his career (2g, 2a), during which he notched his first of three game-winning goals this season. One of those goals was scored top-shelf following a power move he made off the left-wing, and the second was a laser of a wrist shot from the middle of the slot. Bjugstad had another 2-goal night just two games later against San Jose, and he was able to showcase his cannon of a slapshot on his 2nd goal which came from the top of the left faceoff circle. He also tied the game against Nashville the following game with 31 seconds remaining in the third period, which came 14 seconds after Rocco Grimaldi cut the Predators lead to one goal. Including the game versus LA, Bjugstad totaled 8 points (5g, 3a) in that 4 game span.
The month of December was highlighted by several things for Bjugstad, with one of them being his game-winning goal in the historic 20-round shootout at home versus Washington on the 18th. After not scoring as the 2nd shooter for the Panthers, he went for his 2nd attempt as the team’s 20th shooter. He came in wide off left-wing, faked a wrist shot, and then scored as the Capital’s goalie Braden Holtby went down early. From December 4th to the 12th, Bjugstad had another impressive four game span where he tallied 7 points, including another 2-goal game, and he had been carrying most of the team’s offensive load for a couple months already. He capped off December with a game-trying goal against Montreal with less than 2 minutes left in the 3rd period and then signed a 6-year, $4.1 million contract right after the game.
In early January, Bjugstad scored on Braden Holtby of the Capitals from the goal line on an insane angle, which is something he would do again on February 12th in his hometown of Minnesota. Following the All-Star Break in late January, the Panthers began using 4 forwards and 1 defenseman on the powerplay, and Bjugstad was often set up for one-timers from the left faceoff circle a la Stamkos and Ovechkin. He ended up with 3 powerplay goals, and only 2 more multi-point efforts during the 2nd half of the season. Bjugstad played his last game of the season on March 21st against Boston after he sustained a back injury against the Canadiens on March 17th. He had back surgery in Minnesota to repair a herniated disk on March 27th, but should be ready to go come training camp in September.
Overall, he ended the season with 43 points in 72 games, including a team-leading 24 goals, and he sat tied for 7th in assists with 19. He averaged over a point per game on Sundays with 11 points in 9 games and a plus 7 rating, which was his best pace on any day of the week. Bjugstad’s best month was November, having put up 8 goals and 3 assists in 13 games, and his best period was the 2nd with 13 goals.
There’s no arguing that Bjugstad’s play improved over last season. He seemed to be quicker, and he used his 6’6″ frame to his advantage more than he did last year, and it led to more scoring opportunities. Bjugstad definitely has the potential to be a 60+ point player, and if you take out his slow start and back injury, which without a doubt made him less effective near the end of the season, he could’ve easily reached that this year. He has all of the tools to have an impact offensively as a centerman, and we’ve seen that both this year and last, so there’s no reason why that trend won’t continue.