Former Gophers center Bjugstad returns to Minnesota in trade to Wild

In his eighth year in the NHL, Bjugstad was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a trade for a conditional pick in the 2021 NHL draft.

Minnesota+forward+Nick+Bjugstad+keeps+the+puck+from+Wisconsin+forward+Nic+Kerdiles+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+17%2C+2013%2C+at+Soldier+Field+in+Chicago.

Emily Dunker

Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad keeps the puck from Wisconsin forward Nic Kerdiles on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Former Gophers center Nick Bjugstad has had one hell of a week.

Just days after the birth of his second daughter, he learned he’d be coming home to Minnesota after being traded to the Wild. A native of Blaine, Bjugstad played three seasons with the Blaine Bengals before graduating early and joining the Gophers in the 2010-11 season, where he put up 20 points in 29 games.

After two more successful seasons and an All-American nomination, Bjugstad signed with the Florida Panthers in 2013, having been drafted 19th overall in the 2010 NHL draft.

Not one to romanticize Bjugstad’s return, Wild general manager Bill Guerin made it clear that this move is all business.

“Bringing a guy home, there’s some risk involved in that, but I’m confident that Nick’s going to be a professional,” Guerin said. “This is not a homecoming for him by any stretch. He’s coming here to play for the Minnesota Wild and to help us win, and that’s what I expect, and I know that that’s what I’m going to get.”

In his NHL career, Bjugstad has dealt with multiple injuries, most recently having surgery in May to correct a herniated disk in his back. The procedure put an end to his season with Pittsburgh, but he has since recovered and is back to working out and skating.

Bjugstad acknowledged that coming home and being closer to family and friends could be a distraction for some players in his situation. But, he said after years of playing in the Eastern Conference, where he was only in town for one game a year, playing in St. Paul consistently wouldn’t bring about the whirlwind of setting up free tickets and meeting friends and family postgame.

Now being a father of two on top of the COVID-19 lockdown has him far less busy than he was in his younger professional days.

“I don’t do much anymore: I’m kind of on a dad routine where I’m going to bed early, and I’m able to get workouts in,” he said.

And while being home again may cast a larger spotlight on him than playing in Florida or Pittsburgh had, he said he is keeping a positive attitude and focusing on playing the best he can for the Wild.

Even with multiple NHL seasons under his belt, Bjugstad credits his time with the Gophers for helping him learn how to play in front of a big crowd, especially when facing off against tough rivals.

“I loved my three years at Minnesota — it was a very important time in my life,” Bjugstad said. “I got to go to school and play hockey, learned how to play in front of a big crowd … I say a lot that I went from playing with the Gophers down to Florida, and obviously it’s not as big of a market down there. A lot of times it was almost more pressure from the outside sources in college than it was going down to Florida. So, I’ve dealt with [pressure], and I think I’m ready for the task.”