MINNEAPOLIS — One day after losing its top defenseman to the NHL, the Gophers lost their top goal scorer and their captain.
Junior Nick Bjugstad signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers and captain Zach Budish agreed to terms with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals on Wednesday, becoming the second and third University of Minnesota players to leave school early in as many days. Defenseman Nate Schmidt signed with the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
Bjugstad, a junior from Blaine, led the Gophers with 21 goals this season. He also had 15 assists and was third on the team in scoring with 36 points. As a sophomore, Bjugstad was named to the All-WCHA first team after scoring 25 goals for Minnesota. He was a first-round pick (19th overall) by Florida in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Budish, a redshirt junior from Edina, served as the Gophers’ captain this season and was fourth on the team in scoring with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists). He was a second-round draft pick by Nashville in the 2009 draft. He suffered a knee injury during his sophomore year in 2010-11 and played just seven games. Budish returned the following year to score 35 points last season and followed that up with 36 points as a redshirt junior. He signed an amateur tryout deal with the Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Predators.
There is still a chance Gophers forward Erik Haula could join Schmidt, Bjugstad and Budish and leave early. Haula was a draft pick of the Minnesota Wild.