Don’t be surprised if Nick Bjugstad doesn’t pick up his cellphone on game days next season.
His phone might be in airplane mode to block incoming calls.
“I’ve found ways to calm the outside noise,” he said.
Now more than ever, Bjugstad might need those tactics.
The Blaine native, former Mr. Hockey and Gophers alum has come full circle, with Bjugstad joining the Wild on Friday in a trade from Pittsburgh.
“I’ve watched [the Wild] growing up my whole life,” Bjugstad said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am for the opportunity.”
But the hoopla of the homecoming isn’t distracting Bjugstad from the business at stake, and that’s recalibrating a career that has been knocked off course by injury.
“I’m looking forward to definitely, after the year I didn’t really have, coming out and proving myself again,” Bjugstad said Saturday on a video conference call. “It’s not easy to come back from surgeries, but I set up the right team around me with strength and conditioning and physios. It’s been a great time for me to really learn about myself.
“I’m ecstatic, but with that, I’m approaching it like I got traded to any other team where I want to help them win a Stanley Cup.”
Last season was a challenging one for Bjugstad. He suffered a core muscle injury and after undergoing surgery in November didn’t make it back to the Penguins’ lineup until March. After three games, he was sidelined again — this time for a new issue — and had spinal surgery in May to correct a herniated disc.
‘Something to prove’
In the end, Bjugstad played only 13 games last season, registering a goal and assist, but the Wild was still interested.
“Nick definitely has something to prove,” General Manager Bill Guerin said. “I think the healthy, motivated Nick Bjugstad is a very good player. I’m anxious to see him get going, and I’m confident that he’ll do fine.”
Guerin was with Pittsburgh’s front office when the team acquired Bjugstad from Florida in 2019 and sees a versatile player who combines size with skill and can line up at center or wing. The 6-6, 215-pound Bjugstad is also a right shot, which the Wild are short on up front.
After conversations with Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and Bjugstad’s agent, Guerin wasn’t concerned about past injuries. The 28-year-old, who will wear No. 27 with the Wild, has appeared in all 82 games only once in his NHL career — in 2017-18, when he recorded a career-high 49 points.
Bjugstad has 97 goals and 110 assists in 439 NHL games after stints at the University of Minnesota and Blaine High School. The Panthers drafted him 19th overall in 2010.
Guerin said this trade isn’t related to captain Mikko Koivu’s future and declined to elaborate on whether the veteran will return. More changes up the middle, however, are realistic, Guerin said.
Looking at next step
Pittsburgh is retaining half of Bjugstad’s salary, which is at $5.25 million during the last season of his six-year, $24.6 million contract. The Penguins will receive a 2021 seventh-round draft pick from the Wild only if Bjugstad plays in 70 games or scores 35 points.
“I really do believe in the skill set he has,” Guerin said. “Just being as big as he is and having the hands and the playmaking ability is something that is rare. Nick has had a couple of off years, and he’s going to have to work hard to get his game back to where it can be, and I’m confident that he is.”
Bjugstad, who was a bit surprised by the trade, said he’s 100% and has resumed skating and working out. He’s confident he can log a full season and feels he can rove up and down the Wild lineup as needed. He expects his frame to be a nuisance for defenders down low, but he also prides himself on being responsible defensively.
“Whatever I can do to come in and help the team,” he said, “I’m willing.”
Although he’s preparing to manage the hype that comes with a return home, the familiarity could ease the transition.
Since he and his wife, who welcomed a second daughter on Monday, spend summers in the Twin Cities, Bjugstad doesn’t have to move. And he has a built-in support system with family and friends around; he plans to chat with his uncle Scott Bjugstad, an ex-North Star, about playing in his hometown.
“I’m sure he’ll have some good advice on how to handle it,” said Bjugstad, who has already talked to new teammate Zach Parise and the coaching staff. “I think he’s a big reason I’ve continued to play hockey for this long.”
This is where that journey started, and now Bjugstad is back for a new chapter.
“I love it here,” he said. “I’m just ecstatic about the opportunity.”