Nick Bjugstad will finally make his season debut for the Panthers on Tuesday night at home against the Flyers after missing the first 19 games of the season due to injury, the team announced on Monday.
Bjugstad suffered a broken hand in the Panthers’ preseason game against the Dallas Stars on October 4th, and they’ve been forced to make do without him since then. Denis Malgin stepped in as the 3rd-line center out of training camp and has filled the position well enough to retain his spot on the roster even with Bjugstad returning to the lineup.
“We are excited for Nick’s return. He is a foundational player for us,” said Dale Tallon, the team’s President of Hockey Operations.
The Panthers have won 4 of their last 5 games, including once against the league-leading Montreal Canadiens and most recently against the New York Rangers who are currently the NHL’s 2nd-best team. Bjugstad will provide a boost up front for the Panthers who are looking to keep things rolling after an inconsistent start – at least defensively – to the season.
The 24-year old forward missed the entire month of December last season with migraines and played his best hockey of the year just before and into the playoffs when the Panthers were without Vincent Trocheck for just under a month. After tallying 15 goals and 19 assists in 67 regular season games, he recorded 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 playoff games before exiting Game 5 against the Islanders at home early in the second overtime when his skate caught a rut in the ice, propelling him head-first into the ledge of the boards and forcing him to miss the final game of the series.
Bjugstad has been participating fully in the Panthers’ practices – albeit with a yellow, non-contact jersey – for the past week or so and lately, he has looked more than ready to get back into the swing of things.
In order to accommodate Bjugstad on the roster – which was previously full at 23 players – the Panthers made the decision to send forward Jared McCann to the Springfield Thunderbirds of the AHL. In 17 games this season for the Panthers since being acquired for Erik Gudbranson in May, the 19-year old has 1 goal and 2 assists. The Panthers see him as a future scoring forward in the team’s top-6, so giving him higher quality minutes in the AHL will allow him to gain confidence round out his game.
“Jared has played very well for us this season, especially on our recent road trip and is a big part of our future. He will be able to receive significant playing time, including special teams opportunities in the AHL, which will allow him to continue to develop into a top-six NHL forward with the Panthers.”
McCann will wear number 23 for the Thunderbirds and is expected to make his AHL debut on Friday at home against the Hershey Bears.
With McCann being sent down and Malgin playing so well at center, the odds of Bjugstad playing on the wing – to start at least – are very high.
One of his best assets is his shooting ability and the most efficient way to allow him to make use of his shot more often would be to put him on the wing. He’s a north-south player and his big frame makes him effective in board battles, an area of the game in which wingers are often engaged. Malgin is cerebral player and a solid passer, and that bodes well for Bjugstad who scored 24 goals two seasons ago. Colton Sceviour is likely to line up on opposite wing, and he’ll help out by retrieving loose pucks and setting up plays, similar to Jussi Jokinen.
The Panthers also announced on Monday that Alex Petrovic has been placed on the injured reserve and will miss the next 8 weeks with an ankle injury.
It’s believed the injury came when he blocked a shot during Tuesday’s game in Montreal. Petrovic finished the game, but proceeded to miss Thursday and Saturday’s games against Ottawa and the Rangers.
Petrovic has played surprisingly well so far this season while also chipping in offensively with 1 goal, 4 assists, and a +8 rating. His solid defensive play has come at times when the Panthers have benergy inconsistent as a whole in their own zone.
The Panthers are currently carrying 7 healthy defensemen, including Jakub Kindl and Dylan McIlrath.