Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Early Departures for the Gophers

As with many Division I hockey programs, the Gophers are a victim of early departures of players heading to professional hockey. The last couple of seasons had seen the number of departures lessen, but after the first round NCAA loss to Yale, the University of Minnesota is seeing a number of key players head to the NHL.

Nick Bjugstad, Drafted 19th Overall by the Florida Panthers, 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Nick Bjugstad During the Hockey City Classic
Bjugstad came in as a true freshman to Minnesota, while he accelerated his studies at Blaine High School to graduate a year early. While he was 18 years old his freshman season for the Gophers, he would have been a senior in high school had he not accelerated his studies. As a freshman, Bjugstad battled with mono for part of the season which slowed his development in catching up to the speed of NCAA hockey. The second half of the year, Bjugstad started to adapt and ended his rookie season with 8 goals, 12 assists, for 20 points in 29 games. His sophomore season was a breakout season, as he
started out on a hot streak, including a hat-trick against St. Cloud State. He finished with a team high 25 goals, and third in points with 42 in 40 games. He was named Second-Team All-American after the season, and First-Team All-WCHA. After helping his team to a Frozen Four appearance in 2012, many thought Bjugstad would jump to the NHL, but he returned for his junior season. Bjugstad's point total dropped slightly in 2012-2013, but he still had an impressive 21 goals and 15 assists in 40 games, finishing third in scoring once again behind Erik Haula and Kyle Rau, and being named Third-Team All-WCHA. Bjugstad signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Panthers ($900,000/season max for rookie contracts).

Zach Budish, Drafted 41th Overall in the 2nd Round by the Nashville Predators, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Budish was a great high school player at Edina High School, and would have been a favorite for Mr. Hockey in 2009 had he not suffered a leg injury in the fall of 2008 while playing football. He missed his
Gopher Captain Zach Budish has signed with Nashville
senior year, but was still taken in the second round by Nashville. In his rookie season, Budish put up 7 goals and 10 assists for 17 points in 39 games. His sophomore season, he had six points in seven games before red-shirting due to a scooter or segway accident on campus, I don't remember, but it was a rather embarrassing way to end his season. He came back for his third year, sophomore season of eligibility, paired with Bjugstad and Kyle Rau on the top line. He put up 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 43 games. In his fourth year, junior season of eligibility, Budish had similar statistics to the prior year, finishing with 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points in 40 games. His contract, like                 Bjugstad's, is an entry-level contract.

Nate Schmidt, Undrafted Free Agent, Washington Capitals
Defenseman Nate Schmidt
Schmidt was a player that got a lot of recognition as a younger player and into high school. Looking at his stats for the Fargo Force in the USHL his senior year of high school, I wonder how he went undrafted. However, Schmidt came in as a true freshman (age-wise, he played one year of junior hockey), and played in 13 games, recording one assist. He played the season between wing and defense, not seeing much ice time. His sophomore season shocked many, as he went from barely earning a spot in the lineup as a freshman, to being in the top three in the nation in assists for much of
the year, finishing with 38 to go along with three goals for 41 points in 43 games. He was named Second-Team All-WCHA. His junior season his point total dropped a bit but his goal production went up as he quarterbacked the power play unit. He ended with 9 goals and 23 assists for 32 points in 40 games.He was then named First-Team All-WCHA, and an All-American candidate. Schmidt attended the Washington Capitals training camp last summer, and signed a two-year entry-level contract with them.

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