Nick Bjugstad has suited up in 139 games for the Florida Panthers over the past two seasons, but his biggest foe continues to be long-term injury.
During the 2014-15 season, Bjugstad was healthy for nearly the entire campaign before being shelved late in the year with a lower-body injury and being forced to miss the final 10 games of the regular season. Then in December 2015, Bjugstad went down with an upper-body injury that sidelined him for 15 contests. Even the Panthers’ short post-season run this past season wasn’t a healthy one for Bjugstad, as he was forced to miss the final game with a head injury.
And now, with the 2016-17 season less than one week away, Bjugstad has again found himself on the sidelines, this time with a broken hand that will force him to sit out the next four weeks.
According to Miami Herald’s George Richards, Bjugstad’s injury came early in the Panthers’ pre-season game against the Dallas Stars this past Tuesday. During the contest, Bjugstad went crashing into the Stars’ goal which resulted in the break.
A four-week timeline for return would signify yet another loss of at least 10 games for Bjugstad, and realistically he could miss a dozen games if the injury takes longer to heal. It’s awful luck for Bjugstad, who has seen his role diminish over the past season, to find himself on the shelf with a new season approaching, and any chance he may have had of moving up the lineup early in the campaign is all but gone now.
After Bjugstad led the Panthers with 24 goals during the 2014-15 season, a season in which he averaged second-line minutes, he found himself demoted to third-line duty this past campaign. He averaged exactly 15:30 per game for the Cats, and his goal total dipped to 15. However, Bjugstad did still manage to match the 19 assists he had posted the year prior.
In the short term, it’s a loss for the Panthers, to be sure. With Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Derek MacKenzie, Jared McCann and Jonathan Marchessault all as capable centers, though, there’s certainly someone who can step in to fill Bjugstad’s spot. The concern from Bjugstad’s point of view, though, has to be that someone could make him expendable.
Rumors popped up during the off-season that Bjugstad was a potential trade candidate, especially with the emergence of players such as Barkov and Trocheck, but it will be up to Bjugstad upon his return to prove that he can stay healthy and still provide the 20-goal performance he did as a sophomore.
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