Offseason Options: Could Nick Bjugstad be a fit for the Oilers?

Mar 8, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild center Nick Bjugstad (27) skates with the puck while Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson (71) defends in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild center Nick Bjugstad (27) skates with the puck while Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson (71) defends in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports /
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In the next in my series of offseason acquisition options for the Oilers, I’ll be looking into the possible merits of pursuing C/RW Nick Bjugstad of the Minnesota Wild- a teammate of our first subject, Nick Bonino.

What has he done recently?

Even before getting into his stats, Bjugstad is an interesting player to analyze. From his immense size (6’6) to his injury history (3 of 10 seasons with more than 67 games played), there’s a lot of additional factors to consider.

At 5-on-5 this season, he posted 5 goals and 14 points in 44 games while averaging 10:26 per game with the Wild. This equates to 1.83 pts/60 which is classified as a scoring rate expected of top-6 forwards (1.75 pts/60 minutes and above)- a rate that would’ve seen him rank 3rd on the Oilers behind only the Wonder Duo of McDavid and Draisaitl. Further, he and his linemates outscored opposition 19-14 (57.6% GF) while getting outchanced 178-188 (48.6% SCF) while starting 40% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone.

Prior to this season, Bjugstad had posted two seasons where his scoring rates were noticeably less impressive, posting just 0.9 pts/60 last season and 1.37 pts/60. Regardless of whether this is mostly the result of his injuries, it’s evidence that he isn’t a reliable scorer. Despite this, Bjugstad’s on-ice goal share results have been consistently positive when compared to his teammates in each of the past 4 years (+6.2, +16.7, +7.7, and +6.7).

What could he bring to the Oilers?

For one thing, he seems to cycle between shooting a whole lot and shooting at an above-average rate. His 9.2 shots/60 at 5-on-5 last year would’ve ranked him #1 on the Oilers and his lowest total in recent years (6.3 shots/60 in 2019-20) still would’ve placed him 5th among regular Oilers forwards.

While he is a right shot C, his faceoff numbers are nothing to write home about and this is despite splitting faceoff duties with guys like Bonino and Sturm. However, there’s some nuance to his faceoff numbers that are rather interesting. Over the past 3 seasons, Bjugstad won 46.5% of his 795 even-strength faceoffs but 53.9% of his 90 powerplay faceoffs. This particular skill alongside his big frame and shooter’s mentality might warrant consideration for the spot that will (hopefully) open up on the Oilers’ top PP unit.

Beyond this, Bjugstad isn’t much of a special teams guy playing mostly 2nd unit PP and next to nothing on the PK. He’s not a particularly physical player (7.6/60; around Puljujarvi and Ennis) and he’s pretty average at getting into shooting lanes (2.1/60; around RNH) and stripping pucks from his opposition (1.9/60; around Chiasson).

Last but not least, how does he perform in the playoffs? Well, the sample size is small enough (15 games in his career) that it’s hard to say more than the following: he won’t hurt you but he’s unlikely to be a difference-maker.

Conclusion

In summary, Bjugstad is a solid even-strength contributor to his teams and seems to have a certain set of skills that could be of utility to the Oilers. His strengths are his shooting mentality, a well-rounded game, and the consistency with which his lines outscore opposition. On the flip side, he struggles to stay healthy, isn’t a strong faceoff man, and doesn’t kill penalties.

Like Bonino before him, he wouldn’t revive the dead husk that is the Oilers bottom-6 but he could be a genuinely solid contributor on a line where he can split faceoff duties and play with some skill. Perhaps a Benson-McLeod-Bjugstad line could do some damage!

What do you think of Bjugstad? Are there other players you’re interested in reading more about? Let me know in the comments!

(Stats per Natural Stat Trick)