Nick Bjugstad Finishes Rookie Season With Top Marks on The Ice And in The Classroom

As several of his teammates head east to Minsk, Belarus, and this year’s IIHF World Championships, Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad will instead travel west to his home state of Minnesota.

Originally thought to be a shoe-in for Team USA’s World Championships roster, Bjugstad’s suspicious snub actually makes sense when you realize that the competition conflicts with possibly an even greater event in his life – his college graduation.

Unbeknownst to many, Bjugstad spent the second half of the 2013-14 season not only being graded on his face-off percentage and point total, but also his work in the classroom as he pushed to earn the final credits he needed to obtain a degree in Business Marketing from the University of Minnesota.

“All done,” Bjugstad said after practice on April 2 with his final course completed – a five-week economics class. “I should be able to walk in May with my class, so that’ll be kinda cool. I was pretty excited to get that done.”

Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Bjugstad (Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

A first-round pick (19th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bjugstad played for three years at the University of Minnesota before forgoing his senior season and making his NHL debut for the Panthers on April 6, 2013.

However, at just 21 years old and only just beginning his promising young career in the NHL, Bjugstad admits that he hasn’t fully moved on from his college lifestyle.

“I still kinda live like a college kid anyways,” Bjugstad said. “Taking the classes and still talking to all my college buddies. I moved on a little bit from school since you obviously don’t have to go to class, but online work, you have to have some self motivation to do that.”

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Rocco Grimaldi Agrees To Entry-Level Contract With Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers smallest prospect took a big leap on Wednesday as Florida Panthers Executive Vice President and General Manager Dale Tallon announced that the club has agreed to an entry-level contract with 5-foot-6 F Rocco Grimaldi.

“We are very pleased to have reached a contract agreement with Rocco,” said Tallon in the team’s official press release. “He is a hard working forward who possesses speed along with great vision on the ice. We look forward to his continued growth and development within our organization.”

Rocco Grimaldi (Natalie Shaver)

Rocco Grimaldi (Natalie Shaver)

Selected in the second round (33rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Grimaldi, 21, caught the eyes of Panthers scouts with his blazing end-to-end speed and ability to play beyond his size. After two seasons with the U.S. National Development Team, Grimaldi committed to the University of North Dakota and competed as a freshman for UND during the 2012–13 season.

In the midst of his freshman season, Grimaldi and fellow Panther prospect Vincent Trocheck were selected to represent the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. Although Grimaldi started off the tournament shaky and never even saw the ice during USA’s game vs. Slovakia, he was able to progress and get better every game as the tournament went on.

Grimaldi’s speed was on full display in the later rounds of the tournament as he was able to break into the offensive zone with powerful bursts. Throughout the tournament Grimaldi compiled 4 points (2-2-4) and had a key assist on Jake McCabe’s game winning goal over Canada. Grimaldi’s shining moment came in the gold medal game when he took home MVP honors after scoring two goals in USA’s 3-1 win over Sweden.

Upon his return from Russia, Grimaldi would finish his freshman season at UND third in team scoring with 36 (13-23-36) points. For his efforts, Grimaldi was selected to the ALL-WCHA Rookie Team.

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How to Improve The Florida Panthers’ Brand

When new owner Vincent Viola took the reins of the Florida Panthers prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, he made it very clear that the team would no longer be content to simply survive in Florida, but flourish instead.

As the inaugural season of the Viola-Cifu era comes to a close, both players and management have already begun to look ahead to an offseason in which new ownership will have the time and planning to truly make their mark both on and off the ice.

With that in mind, there are several key areas that should be addressed if the organization hopes to go from a perpetual sideshow to a respected franchise.

Some areas in need of change are obvious.

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Florida Panthers Win 2014 NHL Draft Lottery

Things may finally be looking up for the Florida Panthers as the team won the NHL’s annual draft lottery on Tuesday night.

By winning Tuesday’s lottery, Florida erases the bad memory of missing out on last year’s 1st overall selection, even after finishing with the worst record in the NHL.

This was the third time in franchise history that the ping-pong balls bounced favorably and the Panthers won the annual lottery. In both 2002 and 2003, Florida traded its top pick for the third overall selection.

With just an 18.8% chance of winning, Florida jumped over Buffalo (25% chance), much like Colorado had done to the Panthers just a year ago.

This year will mark the fourth time in the past five seasons that the Panthers have had a top-three pick. Selecting Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson in the previous three. Given their history of trading the overall top pick, the Panthers haven’t actually picked first since taking current team captain Ed Jovanovski in 1994.

Void of a consensus number one pick in this year’s draft, the Panthers may once again look to move their pick as it seems quality players will be available throughout the majority of the first round.

However, if the team does decide to hold onto their pick, players such as D Aaron Ekblad, F Sam Reinhart and F Sam Bennett are thought to be this year’s top talent.

The 2014 NHL Entry Draft will be held on June 27–28, 2014 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Drew Shore, Vincent Trocheck and Jimmy Hayes named to Team USA’s 2014 IIHF World Championship Roster

On the eve of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, USA Hockey announced today the first 15 players of the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team that will compete at the IIHF’s Men’s World Championship May 9-25 in Minsk, Belarus. 

As of right now, representing the Florida Panthers at this year’s tournament will be forwards Drew Shore, Jimmy Hayes and Vincent Trocheck.

No strangers to international competition, all three players have competed for Team USA at some point in their careers.

Their international experience is as follows:

Jimmy Hayes 

U.S. National Junior Team (2009)
U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team (2007)

Vincent Trocheck

U.S. National Junior Team (2013)

Drew Shore

U.S. National Junior Team (2011)
U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team (2009)

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Panthers Kickoff 2014 Offseason With Draft Lottery Tuesday

Just days after the final game of the 2013-14 regular season, the Florida Panthers are set to begin their first offseason under new ownership headed by Vincent Viola. Though the team hopes to solve most of their roster problems in free agency, the first important event of the 2014 offseason kicks off tomorrow night with the annual NHL Draft Lottery.

Set to begin at 8 p.m., ET, the Panthers will have an 18.8% chance at winning this year’s top pick after finishing 29th in the NHL with a final record of 29-45-8.

Given that no team can slide more than one spot back of their finishing position, the Panthers are guaranteed at least a top-three pick in this year’s draft regardless of what luck they may or may not have tomorrow night.

The chance to win this year’s first-overall selection for every lottery team is as follows:

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Nick Bjugstad on The Verge of Making Panthers History

SUNRISE, Fla — Just one game remaining in the Florida Panthers 2013-14 season and rookie center Nick Bjugstad has a chance to make history.

With 81 games already in the books, Bjugstad currently sits atop the Panthers’ scoring list with 38 (16-22-38) total points. If he can manage to hold onto this lead with just one more game to play, he will become the fist Panthers’ rookie to ever win the team’s scoring title.

Bjugstad entered Thursday night’s game against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs in the midst of a four-game scoring drought, but still just two points behind Scottie Upshall’s team-leading 37 points.

After notching one assist through the first two periods, Bjugstad netted his first goal since March 1 on a beautiful wrap-around that squeaked past Maple Leafs’ goaltender Drew Macintyre at 3:23 of the third period.

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Panther Parkway Post-Game: Panthers vs. Flyers

Stars of the game

1st: Claude Giroux (2-0-2)

2nd: Vincent Lecavalier (1-1-2)

3rd: Jonathan Huberdeau (1-0-1)

Goals (Flyers 5, Panthers 2)

PHI: Vincent Lecavalier (20)  Assist: Adam Hall

PHI: Claude Giroux (26) Assists: Nicklas Grossman, Luke Schenn

PHI: Claude Giroux (27) Assists: Mark Streit, Scott Hartnell

PHI: Sean Couturier (11) Assists: Braydon Coburn, Matt Read

FLA: Erik Gudbranson (3) Assists: Scottie Upshall, Vincent Trocheck

FLA: Jonathan Huberdeau (9) Assists: Drew Shore, Colby Robak

PHI: Tye McGinn (4) Assists: Vincent Lecavalier, Adam Hall

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Brandon Pirri: “I have a role on this team”

In the midst of yet another rebuild, the Florida Panthers will certainly have a lot of question marks to address this offseason. Rookie center Brandon Pirri isn’t one of them.

Acquired in a pre-deadline deal with the Chicago Blackhawks on March 2, Pirri, 22, has quickly become one of the Panthers’ most reliable and productive forwards on a team that has been bereft of offense for the majority of the season.

“It’s been good. The transition has been easy,” Pirri said of his first month in Florida. “Very comfortable, great locker room here.”

In 46 games split between Chicago and Florida, Pirri has tallied 23 points (12-11-23), placing him 25th in the NHL among rookies while playing in significantly fewer games than those ahead of him.

Brandon Pirri ( Kelsey Hinds @Kelsey1344 )

Brandon Pirri ( Kelsey Hinds @Kelsey1344 )

Additionally, since the trade deadline, Pirri’s performance has actually been on par with some of the biggest names that changed uniforms roughly one month ago.

With a post-deadline point total of 12 (6-6-12), Pirri has been producing around the same rate as Matt Moulson (10), Thomas Vanek (14) and Marion Gaborik (11). And unlike the three aforementioned forwards, Pirri has been doing the majority of his damage from the third line.

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Luongo Returns to Panthers in 2-1 Loss to Flames

After suffering a mild-concussion on March 27th against the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo finally reclaimed his spot between the pipes as the team kicked off their season ending homestand against the Calgary Flames on Friday night.

During his three game absence, the Panthers struggled to keep opponent’s scoring low, allowing 14 total goals as veteran backups Scott Clemmensen and Dan Ellis tried to hold down the fort.

Competing in his 800th career NHL game, Luongo admittedly showed signs of rust as the Panthers fell to the Flames by a final score of 2-1.

“I think I felt a hair off as far as my game is concerned,” Luongo said. “I only had one practice and jumped right into the game. It’ll get better as the next couple days go by.”

[Read more...]


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