Alex Petrovic may be sidelined for a while, but at least the injury-prone Panthers are getting back center Nick Bjugstad. The 24-year-old pivot suffered a hand injury during the preseason, but will return to the lineup to make his 2016-17 debut tonight. Bjugstad has had his injury struggles early on in his young career, but has managed to produce when healthy in each of the past three seasons.
The tenth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Bjugstad finally became a full-time player in Florida in 2013-14, putting up 38 points in 76 games as a rookie. He topped those numbers in 2015-16 with 24 goals and 43 points in 72 games, and then posted 34 points in just 67 games last year. A hard-working, physical forward, Bjugstad has shown resilience and an ability to bounce back from injury before, and the Panthers expect nothing less. Currently tied for fourth in the Atlantic Division with an offense on the wrong side of the league average, Florida will welcome the added offense that Bjugstad’s return will bring and hope that his presence can help to get the team back atop the division, where they spent most of the 2015-16 season.
In a corresponding move, the Panthers have sent Jared McCann to the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds. Florida had originally acquired the 20-year-old center from the Vancouver Canucks as part of the return for Erik Gudbranson in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks last season. McCann has three points in 17 games thus far, but has looked good. His demotion is more to ensure that he gets ice time and continues to develop. With Bjugstad back, the Panthers are set down the middle with Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Derek MacKenzie also in the fold.
Players making their NHL debuts tonight:
- The defending Stanley Cup champs are dealing with the injury bug and have called in reinforcements. Jake Guentzel will make his NHL debut tonight, likely lined up alongside Evgeni Malkin – not a bad place to jump start a career. After three outstanding seasons at the University of Nebraska – Omaha, Guentzel decided to leave school early to join Pittsburgh, and has shown he belongs in the pro game with 17 points in 16 games for the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins thus far. Pittsburgh will need the trend of AHLers exceeding expectations to continue with Guentzel, as they are facing down a severe challenge to their forward depth with injuries to Chris Kunitz and several minor leaguers and still awaiting the return of Daniel Sprong.
- The Penguin’s Stanley Cup opponents are dealing with some injuries of their own. The San Jose Sharks, in anticipation of the long-term absence of Tomas Hertl, have recalled Danny O’Regan from the AHL Barracuda and he will make his NHL debut tonight against the New Jersey Devils. The 22-year-old Massachusetts native has been playing point-per-game hockey in his first pro season, with 11 points in 11 games in the minors. Prior to 2016-17, O’Regan was a four-year starter for his hometown Boston University Terriers and played prep school and junior hockey in the Boston area as well.
- John Klingberg’s loss is Julius Honka’s gain. With top defenseman Klingberg struggling this season combined with him missing a recent team meeting, Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff announced that Honka will make his NHL debut tonight in place of the scratched Klingberg. The 14th overall pick in 2014, Honka has played two full seasons with the AHL’s Texas Stars, but to this point had not earned a call-up. An elite puck-moving defenseman from Scandinavia, just like Klingberg, the Stars are hoping that Honka can help out a defense that has struggled all season and seen numerous players moved in and out of the lineup on a nightly basis.