Bjugstad drafted 19th, four other Gophers taken in NHL draft

The Florida Panthers took Bjugstad with the 19th overall pick in the NHL entry draft Friday night. Four other incoming Gophers players — Mark Alt, Justin Holl, Max Gardiner and Benjamin Marshall — were drafted in the final six rounds Saturday.

Incoming Gophers men's hockey player Nick Bjugstad before boarding a flight to Los Angeles on Wednesday evening at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.  Bjugstad was taken 19th overall by the Florida Panthers in the NHL entry draft Friday night.

Mark Vancleave

Incoming Gophers men’s hockey player Nick Bjugstad before boarding a flight to Los Angeles on Wednesday evening at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. Bjugstad was taken 19th overall by the Florida Panthers in the NHL entry draft Friday night.

John Hageman

Standing at 6 feet 4 inches and with a television camera in his face, future Gophers menâÄôs hockey player Nick Bjugstad is easy to spot in an airport terminal. To NHL scouts, he sticks out just as much on the ice. The Florida Panthers took Bjugstad with the 19th overall pick in the NHL entry draft Friday night. Four other incoming Gophers players âÄî Mark Alt, Justin Holl, Max Gardiner and Benjamin Marshall âÄî were drafted in the final six rounds Saturday. Bjugstad, the 2009 Mr. Hockey Minnesota winner, turns 18 in July and will begin playing for the Gophers in the fall. He had 29 goals and 31 assists in 25 games last season for Blaine High School, leading his team to its third consecutive state tournament. âÄúObviously, it [would be] an honor to get drafted high,âÄù Bjugstad said at the airport Wednesday evening before leaving for the draft in Los Angeles. âÄúI really think itâÄôs just a starting point âĦ you need to work hard from there.âÄù Defensemen Alt and Holl were taken consecutively by the Carolina Hurricanes at 53rd overall and the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 54th, respectively. Gardiner, a forward, was drafted in the third round at 74th overall by the St. Louis Blues and Marshall went to the Red Wings in the seventh round. Alt had 20 points in 24 games for Cretin-Derham Hall last season. He is also a talented quarterback and passed up the opportunity to play football at Iowa in order to pursue hockey. AltâÄôs athleticism caught the eye of former Gophers and North Stars head coach and NHL scout Glen Sonmor , who said Alt will now be focusing full time on hockey, and his talent will develop even further. Holl helped lead Minnetonka High School to the Section 6AA championship this season and joined the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League when the season finished, tallying four points in 11 games . Holl said he will join current Gopher Nick Leddy at the BlackhawksâÄô prospect camp in July and will join the Gophers in 2011-2012 after a season of playing in Omaha. A teammate of Holl at Minnetonka, Gardiner registered 43 points in the regular season last year. His older brother, Jake, was drafted 17th overall in 2008 by the Anaheim Ducks and currently plays for Wisconsin . Marshall scored 20 goals and 39 assists as a junior at Mahtomedi last season and will forgo his senior season to play a year of juniors with the Lancers before joining the Gophe rs for the 2011-2012 season. Because Marshall has only verbally committed to the team, unlike the other four drafted Gophers players who have signed national letters of intent, Lucia could not comment on him. A record 22 high school players were taken in this yearâÄôs draft, and Sonmor said the philosophy of the teams that drafted Bjugstad and the other recruits will determine when and if they leave college early for a shot at the pros. âÄúIâÄôm only guessing. Guys that go 19th in draft and are 6-foot-4 âĦ they donâÄôt usually stick around too long. But you never know,âÄù Sonmor said. âÄúI sure hope [they] play a few years of college, because it gives chance to really excel and to develop the offensive skills and everything they have when theyâÄôre really being depended upon. Some of these teams, depending on their philosophy, donâÄôt believe much in college hockey.âÄù Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said he floated around the idea for Bjugstad to combine his junior and senior years of high school and graduate this spring after his junior year, which he did. âÄúWe could sense when we saw him last summer that he was going to go high in the NHL draft and it was just an opportunity to have him a year longer,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúWe just threw open the idea, and it was up to him whether he wanted to pursue that or not.âÄù Bjugstad became the 14th Gophers player drafted in the first round under LuciaâÄôs 11-year tenure and the fifth first-rounder of the stateâÄôs past six Mr. Hockey winners. Sonmor said although losing recruits early to the NHL may hurt the Gophers, it is something they have to live with. âÄúAre you going to say, âÄòWell, weâÄôre not going to take him unless he says heâÄôs going to stay for four yearsâÄô ?âÄù Sonmor said. âÄúYou take him for as long as you can get him and go from there.âÄù Bjugstad said he hasnâÄôt decided on how long heâÄôll stay at Minnesota and that he will take it âÄúyear by year.âÄù Lucia said Gardiner may play for Des Moines in the USHL next season before playing in Minnesota, adding that he wanted the BluesâÄô feedback before making a decision. Although the other draftees have a good idea where they will play when they make the jump from college to the pros, Gardiner said heâÄôs not in a hurry to get to the next level. âÄúItâÄôs too early to think about that,âÄù Gardiner said. âÄúI talked to the Minnesota scout for [the Blues] after I was drafted and he said, âÄòWeâÄôre in no hurry,âÄô so thatâÄôs kind of nice knowing theyâÄôre not in a hurry either.âÄù