Nick Bjugstad, C Blaine H.S. (HIGH-MN)
Born: July 17, 1992 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Scouting report: Super-sized and skilled centerman has fans and detractors alike; he's been highly-touted all year, but there is always a question surrounding players coming out of high school and how high to take them.
Strengths: Tall and athletic (good hockey blood lines), with the kind of body type that will eventually fill out nicely. Possesses natural strength and will only get more powerful as he grows and undertakes various NCAA and pro weight/strength training regimens. Towering center with a long reach who dominated this year in just about every aspect. Very good skater with long, efficient stride and excellent acceleration. Superb vision and hockey sense. Good passer who finds opening in defenses and uses his soft touch to get the puck into scoring position. Big, heavy shot that he's not afraid to use. Accurate shooter; strikes fear into the opposition when he has the puck in space and can pick the corners on even the most well-positioned goalies. A horse down low and on the cycle; uses gigantic frame to protect the puck and maintian possession. Character kid who is lauded for his humility/lack of ego. Puts the team first; well-respected on and off the ice.
Weaknesses: Hit a massive growth spurt over the last 18 months (going from a reported 5-10, 155 pounds ), so he's still a little gangly and awkward at times; needs to keep improving on his lower leg drive and lateral agility. Didn't do much in the Minnesota State tourney (scoreless in two games) this past winter, which raised questions about his natural offensive skills/abilities when he keeps moving up in level. Still has a lot to learn and may require considerable patience as he develops. There are some doubters; doesn't play with enough intensity or toughness at times-- will need to pick it up in order to maximize his very impressive physical tools/gifts.
Style compares to: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette
Draft prediction: 18th overall to Nashville. Bjugstad is a good value here, and eventually Nashville will look to him to help fill a void up front that the aging Jason Arnott will leave. The Preds could also look at someone like Jaden Schwartz, given their success with Steve Sullivan (although Schwartz doesn't skate as well), or fellow Minnesotan (and not as hyped) Brock Nelson or even perhaps Beau Bennett. Speaking of big centers, Riley Sheahan had a tough second-half at Notre Dame, but he was at one time thought of as being solidly in the top-10. He'd not be all that bad an option for Nashville at 18, even with the poor overall production and recent off-ice incident. Moose Jaw winger Quinton Howden becomes a better value the closer you get to 20 and beyond (and he's a steal IMO if he gets past 30), and if you want an off-the-board pick for Nashville, Jordan Weal is a guy who produced a lot of offense for Regina over the past two seasons. He's small, but like Schwartz, you have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Projection: Most likely a second-line NHL center if he makes it, but does have top-unit potential if he continues his upward momentum and progress, and could even move to the wing depending on the team that drafts him. This kid has enormous (pun intended) potential, but is still a pretty raw player as he stands right now. However, if you're a fan of high-upside, swing-for-the-fences type picks, he's one of quite a few in this class. He has natural size and talent but needs to learn how to best harness it and put everything together. One interesting thing that worked against him a bit was the fact that he was passed over for a spot on the Team USA Under-18 Team this past April in favor of Austin Watson and Connor Brickley, who were the only non U.S. NTDP players to make the cut. Bjugstad's omission was curious to say the least, but because the Americans captured gold, apparently was the right choice made by Kurt Kleinendorst and staff, but Bjugstad has much more skill and potential than Brickley does, so that does speak to the likely grit and toughness that the Massachusetts player possessed, not to mention his familiarity with Belarus and expectations given that he was on the U.S. team that finished second in the Six Nations tourney in February.
Background: Nephew of former University of Minnesota standout, U.S. Olympian and NHL forward Scott Bjugstad. His father was also a member of the Golden Gophers hockey team. Winner of the prestigious 2010 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award, given to the best high school player in the state. Only a junior, accelerated his schooling to graduate a year early and will skate for the University of Minnesota in the fall. Played on the Blaine tennis team in the spring. Favorite NHL team growing up: Minnesota Wild. Favorite NHL player: Mikko Koivu
"I don't think he's done growing yet. So right off the bat, he's got a tremendous advantage. Then he's got genetics. His uncle played in the NHL. But Nick has just worked so hard and he's stronger than most kids he's playing against right now."- Blaine H.S. head coach Dave Aus to NHL.com; May, 2010
“Nick is a top level player who will become an outstanding professional some day. His greatest strengths are his shot, his vision and his unbelievable humbleness. He is an even better person, than he is a hockey player. He will be a popular player to fans and a great pro.”- Blaine H.S. head coach Dave Aus to NHL.com
“He's further along and more polished than (Boston's Blake) Wheeler. He's also a better skater than David Backes was at the same age (17). The only difference is Backes was thicker, but the ingredients are there. He wants the puck and wants to make plays. He's a blue-collar type kid who works his tail off."- Central Scouting's Jack Barzee to NHL.com
"He has a burst You see him pull away from kids who are six inches shorter."- Joe Dziedzic, former NHL player and Bjugstad's coach on Team Northwest, Upper Midwest Minnesota H.S. league to Minneapolis Star Tribune; October, 2009
"I know my size helps and my long reach, but I'm going to keep working," he said. "I've always admired guys like Mikko Koivu and Joe Thornton -- I think I play a similar style to those guys. With my size, I'm more of a power forward so I want to use my body to reach that upper level."- Nick Bjugstad to NHL.com; May, 2010
"There are tough days where I feel like I need a break. But you look ahead and you think about how much you have going. I try to take all this in a good way."- Nick Bjugstad to Minneapolis Star Tribune; October, 2009
Bjugstad Growing On and Off The Ice