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GOING BACK TO MINNY: Nick Bjugstad Spurns Panthers for Junior Year with Gophers ... Dale Tallon Readies for Arbitration with Kris Versteeg

Bjug3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Center Nick Bjugstad announced Thursday that he will return to the University of Minnesota for his junior year and not sign with the Panthers.

GM Dale Tallon had said the 6-6 Bjugstad would have competed for a spot on the Panthers roster had he turned pro.

Tallon added that the team didn't put any pressure on their 2010 first round draft pick and are fine with the decision he made.

Bjugstad helped the Gophers to the Frozen Four last year and his return makes them a heavy favorite to make the trip to Pittsburgh this season.

"This is the right spot for me," Bjugstad said in a statement released by the school.

“I am going to be close to finishing my education and Goldiegopherhopefully can accomplish the goal that I have had ever since I was little, which is winning a national championship.''

Said Minnesota coach Don Lucia: “We are obviously excited Nick is returning. I think Nick felt that he had a little bit more room to grow as a person and as a player. The great thing is that at the end of his junior year is that he will be very close to graduating college. He can be a leader on our team and he feels he can continue to get better in our program.''

() Tallon said there has been no progress in contract talks with winger Kris Versteeg who elected to take the team to arbitration later this month. Florida had hoped to sign Versteeg to a long-term deal this offseason.

While that could still happen before the scheduled hearing, it doesn't sound like it will.

"The ball is in their court,'' Tallon said.  

At the very least, Vertseeg will get a one-year deal at a price determined by the arbiter; the two could continue talks about an extension after that.

Versteeg can be a free agent following next season.

() The Panthers signed goalie Michael Houser and defenseman Josh McFadden to entry level deals. The two are expected to be at training camp but start the season in the minors.

Houser, named most outstanding player in the Ontario Hockey League last season, is expected to start at ECHL Cincinnati; McFadden will likely start at AHL San Antonio.