Friday, April 17, 2020

Nick Bjugstad Jersey Card

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned; it's been over a month since I last completed a post.

Much has happened since, including the Covid-19 pandemic and pausing of the NHL season. For my part, as a translator for essential services providers such as pharmacies, grocery stores and sanitizing products, I've been working overtime to help people from both official languages have access to information about store policies, administrative changes, and manufacturing an distributing supplies and masks.

I did begin writing a few posts on Women's hockey, all-time greats who have seen their numbers being retired and reasons why the Toronto Maple Leafs are wasting valuable talents - and hopefully I'll finish them sooner rather than later - but always ran out of juice to put the finishing touches on them.

To get back into gear, I thought I'd write about American forward Nick Bjugstad, currently the Pittsburgh Penguins' third-line centre and formerly thought of as highly as former Florida Panthers teammate Aleksander Barkov.

Indeed, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers star was a point-per-game player when he was drafted 19th overall by the Cats in 2010, ahead of the likes of star forward Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th), first-liner Brock Nelson (30th), Justin Faulk (37th), Ryan Spooner (45th),  two-time Stanley Cup winner Tyler Toffoli (47th), Jason Zucker (59th), Sidney Crosby linemate Bryan Rust (80th), Joonas Donskoi (99th), #1 goalie Philipp Grubauer (112th), top-pair defenseman John Klingberg (131st), super-pest Micheal Ferland (133rd), Petr Mrazek (141st), multiple 30-goal scorer and heart and soul of the Montréal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher (147th), Dalton Prout (154th), Jesper Fast (157th), the best two-wayplayer in the game today Mark Stone (178th), and #1 goalie Frederik Andersen (187th).

Look at what Hockey's Future had to say in 2012:
Talent Analysis
Bjugstad is a physically dominating presence. His combination of strength and positional awareness with a hard, accurate shot makes him a force at both ends of the ice. Bjugstad plays with poise and he protects the puck exceptionally well in the offense zone by either skating out of trouble or simply shielding opponents with his arms and legs while he buys time to find an open teammate. He can be very difficult to knock off the puck and rarely loses battles along the boards.
Bjugstad made his professional debut late last season, and looks to continue to play at the NHL level in the fall. He has the skill-level to become a scoring line center who will be defensively responsible and who can play in any game situation. His puck skills will allow him to be a mainstay on the powerplay while his high level of hockey intelligence and work rate can also make him a key member of a penalty kill unit.
If that isn't a spot-on description for Barkov, I don't know what is.

So... what happened?

Injuries, for starters, have slowed him down directly in his most developmental years. And while he was out, Barkov was healthy, quickly climbing the ranks not only to the team's first line but also to the captaincy, developing a tangible chemistry with Jonathan Huberdeau that borders on symbiotic.

There's luck, circumstance, and the weight of constantly playing for underachieving teams that he will no longer be subjected to as a member of the Pens, except for the fact that Pittsburgh is now seeing its window close with most of its core having hit the age of 30 and no true superstar set to take over at any position except perhaps defense. But they won't be at risk of missing the playoffs as early as January in the next five seasons, either.

"Bugs" is probably a throwback to when the Penguins had the luxury of counting Jordan Stall followed by Brandon Sutter, in that a player who owuld have been good enough the center a weak team's second line can now provide offense while defending on their third. To complete the hat trick of comparisons, Bjugstad is also a "Heritage name", as his father and uncle played in the WCHA, and uncle Scott also played in the NHL, for the Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Penguins.

Here is Nick after his first 40-point season, on the dual jersey version of card #28 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Artifacts set:
It features a black jersey swatch and a red one, too, both more vivid than what appears in this scan. It is numbered 45/125.

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