Oliver Bjorkstrand has been waiting to emerge for the Columbus Blue Jackets for some time now. He’s grown to play a skilled and physical game after being coached by John Tortorella in the past few seasons.
Since his junior hockey days with the Portland Winterhawks, it’s been clear how well he can shoot. His main focus after turning pro has been playing away from the puck.
Bjorkstrand may have the best shot on the Blue Jackets, which he has used to his advantage so far. The problem, though, is that it hasn’t been seen enough.
Additionally, the physical aspect of the game was something he had to learn in pro hockey, which isn’t a problem. However, it has taken away from the amount of ice time he probably would have liked to receive in his short NHL career so far. Here’s why it’s a big season for Bjorkstrand:
Blue Jackets’ Right-Wing Depth Is Strong
Bjorkstrand’s position, right-wing, is a competitive spot for the Blue Jackets. Cam Atkinson is established, and Josh Anderson has progressed in the past three seasons. Anderson and Bjorkstrand are both capable of top-six minutes, but the problem is only one of them can get it with Atkinson in the mix.
Bjorkstrand’s ceiling is much higher than that of a third-line player, which may make it tough to stay positive sometimes if he doesn’t get much ice time. That said, his lethal shot isn’t something opponents should forget about no matter where he’s at in the lineup.
He can change the game quickly. Despite battling for ice time, Bjorkstrand will have his opportunities. He’s already proved that his mind is in the right place by making adjustments to his game as a pro.
That should keep him away from the doghouse. It’s refreshing to see a player who’s been waiting to break out demonstrate an unselfish attitude and work hard to prove he has more to offer. Not every NHL player is selfish, but, trade requests and bad attitudes will always be around.
Power Play Role Will Keep Bjorkstrand Engaged
Regardless of if Bjorkstrand starts the season on the third line, he will be important for the Columbus Blue Jackets. As previously mentioned, he can change the game in the blink of an eye.
He should get a great chance to establish a big role on the power play this season. At the end of 2018-19, he seemed a bit more willing to shoot and his production was increasing.
The Blue Jackets have had, for the most part, a bad power play for each of the past two seasons. Bjorkstrand should see that as an opportunity to let loose this season.
Going back to the mental aspect, it’ll be key for Bjorkstrand to not be afraid to unleash on the power play even if he wears a big hit. He’s not the biggest player, so staying healthy and positive will be a factor for Bjorkstrand moving forward.
It’s a Crucial Season for Bjorkstrand
I won’t go as far as saying this is a make or break season for Bjorkstrand. However, he does need to show more consistency for his own sake.
It’s could be said that Bjorkstrand has scored the two most important goals in the history of the Blue Jackets organization. First, the AHL Calder Cup-winning goal in 2016 and then the winning goal in Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs a few months back.
He’s signed through 2021 which may actually mean the Blue Jackets can get great value if he plays up to his potential. He’s already had a 40-point season, and he’s capable of much more.
Cam Atkinson, for comparison, scored 14 points in his age 22 season, the same age Bjorkstrand was when he scored 40. It’s not always fair to compare players, but the thing to note is that Oliver’s best play is still ahead of him.
Maybe if the Jackets needed him to be their best player it’d be a make or break season, but having Anderson and Atkinson could work in his favor. 24-years old isn’t old by any means, so there’s some time.
It’ll be fun to see how Bjorkstrand grows this season. After burying a few nice goals in Round 1 of the playoffs, we could see a new level of confidence that he hasn’t displayed before. Look for Bjorkstrand to have a strong start to the 2019-20 season.