CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- At about 6-foot-9 in skates, it's hard to imagine Panthers rookie center Nick Bjugstad being overshadowed by anyone, but when you share a dressing room with another rookie center named Aleksander Barkov, it's understandable.
However, with Barkov (knee), as well as forward Tomas Kopecky (concussion) out indefinitely after sustaining injuries during the Olympics, Panthers coach Peter Horachek has Bjugstad taking the Finnish teenager's spot on the top line with Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim.
"He's done a good job so that's a natural progression for him, so we'll see," Horachek said after practice Monday at the Panthers IceDen. "Having depth in the middle is important. We got some with Bjugstad, (Scott) Gomez, (Marcel) Goc, (Shawn) Matthias and (Drew) Shore. We got some flexibility now."
While Barkov has eight goals and 24 points in 54 games, Bjugstad nearly caught up with his 13 goals -- tied for second on the team -- and 23 points in 52 games. His 341 faceoffs won is third among rookies behind Barkov's 400 and Lightning center Tyler Johnson's 457.
"There's been unexpected things this season, both good and bad," said Bjugstad, 21, who missed the first six games with a concussion. "It's tough to see Barky go out, he's been a great player for us so we have to bounce back and use our depth. Guys will be taking new roles and will have to step up."
The Panthers further shored up their depth at center by recalling Drew Shore from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio where he spent the Olympic break on a scoring rampage for the Rampage with five goals and an assist in nine games (6-2-1).
"I had a lot of confidence going down, so it was obviously different than the beginning of the season," said Shore, 23, who had a four-game goal streak for San Antonio and four goals in his last nine games with the Panthers.
"I knew I was getting sent down because of the break. I wanted to work as hard as I can to improve and I think that's what I did, but it's nice to be back."
With the trade deadline looming on March 5, it's no secret that some Panthers veterans with expiring contracts such as veteran centers Goc and possibly Gomez will be in demand, so depth up the middle is vital.
Panthers defenseman Mike Mottau cleared waivers and was sent back to San Antonio. Mottau has no points in seven games for Florida.
Because of the Olympic break, the Panthers will play their remaining 24 games in the next 45 days, making for a grueling schedule.
"It's going to be gruesome," Matthias said. "It's tough playing every other day but a lot of guys here last year did it with the lockout. You got to take care of yourself and the focus has to be 100 percent hockey.
"You can't take a night off and have to do the little things away from the rink to be ready."
Matthias mentioned proper nutrition, extra sleep and plenty of stretching. Horachek said practices will be shortened and morning skates will take on more significance on game days.
"The biggest thing is managing energy and practice time," Horachek said. "It's too many games, but they decided to do it and everyone's in the same boat.
"You lose practice time, you lose that edge and sharpness. A lot of times in pregame skate now you might have to work on something."
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