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Gophers Hockey: Nick Bjugstad Returns For His Junior Season

After months of speculation, Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad has decided to return to the University of Minnesota for his junior season instead of turning pro with the Florida Panthers. Bjugstad, who led the Gophers with 25 goals last season, helps solidify a team that is considered one of the college hockey preseason favorites.

University of Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad (Photo courtesy of Gophers Athletics/Paul Rovnak)
University of Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad (Photo courtesy of Gophers Athletics/Paul Rovnak)

The wait is over - University of Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad will return to the Gophers for his junior season per a release by the school.

Bjugstad, who led Minnesota with 25 goals last season, had a tough decision to make between turning pro with the reigning Southeast Division winning Florida Panthers, who drafted the 6'5", 211 lb center 19th overall in 2010, and a chance to win a national championship with the Gophers. The team won the WCHA regular season title and advanced to the Frozen Four semifinals last season before losing 6-1 to eventual national champion Boston College.

His decision came four days after finishing a week in Florida for the Panthers' prospect development camp.

Nick's return bucks a trend that has seen Gopher players like Phil Kessel, Stu Bickel, Kyle Okposo and Nick Leddy leave as underclassmen late in the offseason (or in Okposo's case, midseason). Instead, Minnesota returns six of its top seven scorers from college hockey's top offense last year and keeps together its top line of Bjugstad, Kyle Rau (Panthers) and Zach Budish (Nashville Predators).

Even without Bjugstad, Minnesota was considered as one of a group of preseason favorites to win the national championship in 2013. With him, however, they've risen to the top of the pack.

For more on the University of Minnesota, visit The Daily Gopher. You can also find WCHA and college hockey writing at Western College Hockey and SB Nation's NHL Hub.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.