Now that the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter watch is over, what are hockey fans going to do?

Those who are Gophers fans have an easy option. They can follow Nick Bjugstad from afar. The Gophers center is at the Florida Panthers' development camp in Coral Springs. It began on Monday. He participated in a scrimmage on Thursday and will be in another morning scrimmage today (Friday).

On the first day, Bjugstad said he will announce his decision on whether he will turn pro after the camp is over. Have heard he wants to wait until he comes home.

But the Florida media will certainly try to get an answer from him before he leaves. Good luck, fellas. Bjugstad has been asked the same question countless times and, if he isn't ready, he won't give you an answer.

I suspect by Monday we will know. He will take the weekend to decide. Once source close to Bjugstad confirmed that "a few days" suspicion of mine.

Either way, Bjugstad said this past Monday, that he will be playing for a good team, either at the University of Minnesota or "here," meaning Florida.

He also said he would like to win an NCAA title and a Stanley Cup. Of course, the only way he can achieve his first goal is by returning for his junior year at Minnesota.

With him or without him, the Gophers should have a realistic chance to return to the Frozen Four for the second year in a row. But, with Bjugey, they would probably be the preseason favorite. He led the Gophers in goals with 25 last season.

He said the unhappy way last season ended for the Gophers, with a 6-1 loss to Boston College in the national semifinals, will enter into his decision. Unfinished business, eh? Enough to bring him back?


As for the Stanley Cup, the Panthers, even if they add Bjugstad, would be longshots to win it. Florida made the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years.

The Panthers' prospects have been rated the best in the NHL; the Wild's the second best. But it takes time for prospects to develop. For Hockey's Future's top 10 organizational ratings of prospects, click here.

This is a hunch -- I have been told repeatedly that's it's 50-50 on what Bjugstad will do -- but I think he will return to the Gophers. Why?

* He likes college hockey, his teammates. And by the end of the next school year, he will have his degree in business and marketing. That's right he will finish college in three years just like he did high school in three years. He has taken advantage of those summer school classes the Gophers take every year.

* He is big and strong, nearly 6-6, and 220 pounds. But for his frame he is still skinny. If he puts on another 15, 20 pounds -- which the Panthers expect him to do -- and keeps his speed, he may never have to play minor league hockey.

* The labor dispute between the NHL and players union could push the start of the season back a month or two or more. Guessing Bjugstad would prefer playing for the Gophers over playing in the AHL. The Panthers' affiliate is in San Antonio.

* He knows the Gophers could win the NCAA title. With him, they would have six of their top seven scorers back from a team that won the WCHA regular-season title and reached the Frozen Four. Four of those players are 40-point scorers: Erik Haula (20-29-49), Kyle Rau (18-25-43), Bjugstad (25-17-42), all forwards, and defenseman Nate Schmidt (3-38-41).

All top six defensemen return and they will be bolstered by two topnotch freshman, Brady Skjei, a first-round NHL pick, and Mike Reilly, a highly skilled offensive defensman.

Only in goal is there a question. But Adam Wilcox had a solid season in the USHL and Michael Shibrowski is a well-traveled junior waiting for his chance to play.

* Bjugstad is still young. He turns 20 on July 17. Nobody in his family seems to be pushing him to sign. And one of the people who has his ear is uncle Scott Bjugstad, a former NHL player.


Having listed all the reasons that Bjugstad will be back, there is a chance he will turn pro. Playing in the NHL is his dream. It's there in front of him, a signature away, if he proves himself in fall training camp.

One of the Panthers' weaknesses last fall was scoring. They won the Southeast Division title with a 38-26-18 regular-season record despite scoring only 203 goals; opponents had 227. Only four teams scored fewer goals than the Panthers.

The Panthers' top center was 5-11, 190-pound Stephen Weiss (20-37-57).

Their other centers -- Marcel Goc, Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli -- had 11, 10 and nine goals, respectively, and only one of the three is near Bjugstad in size. Matthias is 6-4, 220. So Bjugstad seems like a good fit for the Panthers. When is the only question.