CORAL SPRINGS – Eleven years ago this month, a promising rookie center drafted in the first round joined the
"I thought this is easy,"
Nick Bjugstad will make his NHL debut Saturday night at home against the
Weiss, drafted fourth overall by the Panthers in 2001, was brought up from juniors late in the 2001-02 season and played in seven games, making his debut on his 19th birthday. The 20-year-old Bjugstad, drafted 19th overall in 2010, is about to break into the league in similar fashion.
"It will be a fun first game," Bjugstad said, adding, "It will be surreal for me. I've always wanted to play in the NHL ever since I was little and it's finally happening. It's good when you get a little nervous. You're on your toes a little bit, so I'll be ready to go. I'm sure the adrenaline will be going."
While there are striking similarities in how Weiss broke into the NHL and Bjugstad is doing so, Weiss pointed out there also "different circumstances." He was coming off three years in the OHL playoffs playing against teenagers.
Bjugstad just finished his third season of college hockey at the University of Minnesota. The 5-foot-11 Weiss also noted that he weighed about 170 pounds when he made his debut – and, he added, that was back when NHL rules allowed clutching and grabbing. Bjugstad is listed at 6-6, 220 pounds.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said Friday it remains to be seen how much ice time Bjugstad will get during this 11-game stretch, but inferred that it will be limited at first, stressing that the top priority will be helping him transition to the NHL. For Weiss, a dream debut was followed by some tough times.
"My first year, just not playing a lot was tough. Trying to play eight to 10 minutes a night and contribute offensively like you're used to, it's tough to do and probably not realistic," he said. "My advice to [Bjugstad] would be to enjoy it, take as much in as you can in these  games, go back in the summer and train like an animal, come back in good shape and be ready to go."
Added Weiss: "Unless you're
Bjugstad said Friday he's trying not to focus on the pressure or expectations that might on him.
"I realize it's a really tough league, and there's a lot of great players. I'm going to have to work really hard, do what I can out there and see what happens," he said, adding that he plans to use his size to play physical, and also fast on both ends of the ice.
"I'm going to stay positive even if it's not going my way. I've got to get my feet wet here this first game and go from there."
Bjugstad considered leaving Minnesota after his sophomore season, but said he wanted to “develop as a leader” and try again to win a
Because Bjugstad will be with the Panthers for this final stretch of games, they lose a year of control over his free-agent rights.
"We understood what the consequences are, but he's an asset we wanted to get signed and get him under the fold and get him some games and get him some experience and have him indoctrinated to our team now," General Manager