Anders Bjork belongs in the NHL, and in Tuesday night’s win over the Nashville Predators, he finally got a chance to show what he can do as a top-six forward.
It’s not hard to understand why the Boston Bruins wanted to take it slow with the 23-year-old winger. He was eased back into regular action after the talented forward missed the better part of the last two seasons recovering from shoulder surgeries.
Finally healthy, Bjork impressed in the preseason, but was sent down to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Providence to start the 2019-20 season, presumably to make sure any remaining rust would be knocked off at that level. He played well there and, as expected, once he was recalled to the big club, he cemented a place in the Bruins’ everyday lineup, (from ‘Bruins left wing Anders Bjork establishing himself as NHL player,’ Boston Herald, 12/01/2019).
Getting a Shot
Now, with the team struggling to earn points and the second line not consistently producing, it was time to move Bjork up from his familiar third-line role. He played right wing in Tuesday’s road matchup, the latest in a long line of players head coach Bruce Cassidy has tried in that slot.
In the neverending search for a right winger that fits in well with second-line center David Krejci and left winger Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle has filled the spot of late. However, Coyle’s real strength lies at center, and he has not seen much success on the wing.
Perhaps that was the driving force behind returning Coyle to the third-line center position on Tuesday; a move that produced immediate results, as third-line wing Danton Heinen, who has struggled to light the lamp, scored one of the team’s six goals.
Time for a Change
There is no question that something needs to be done to wake the Bruins up and win games on any sort of regular basis. A trade or roster move may be the answer a bit down the line but for now, the coaching staff has no choice but to try to find success with the current roster.
The bottom line is that Bjork has been playing better than DeBrusk, as well as just about every other player the Bruins have experimented with at second-line right wing. He has been solid in every role he has been asked to fill since being recalled in October. He can hold his own and may be the spark the second line is looking for, DeBrusk in particular.
In 36 games this season, Bjork has six goals and five assists. Those aren’t phenomenal numbers, but they are very good for a young player who has been getting mostly third-line minutes.
Secondary Scoring Woes
One of the primary knocks on the Bruins of late has been a lack of secondary scoring. First line superstars David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have more than 60 points already; Pastrnak leads the league in goals. First-line pivot Patrice Bergeron has also lit the lamp in impressive fashion since his return from injury.
With Bjork joining Krejci and DeBrusk, hopefully the Bruins will be able to roll out a second line that is just as much of a scoring threat as the first. Opposing teams will be more frustrated if they have a reason to fear two or three lines instead of one.
If Bjork’s presence can make the second line better and Coyle’s third unit is allowed to continue to develop its chemistry and contribute on the score sheet, the wins will come. In fact, there is no reason the Bruins cannot get back on a hot streak like the one they enjoyed during the first month of the season.
Decisions to Be Made
Bjork has been playing so well in his first full season in the Spoked-B that he is getting noticed around the league. Rumors abound that other NHL teams have told general manager Don Sweeney that Bjork is one young player they would be interested in acquiring in a trade.
As a result, it will be up to Sweeney to use the seven weeks or so before the Feb. 24 trade deadline to decide just how valuable Bjork is to the team. If the Notre Dame hockey alum proves to be the answer to shore up their second line, that could change the GM’s strategy significantly.
Presumably, hanging on to Bjork would allow the Bruins to try to find a lower-risk, higher-reward player to elevate the play of the bottom six heading into the postseason. Last season’s key deadline acquisitions of Coyle and now former-Bruin Marcus Johansson helped catapult the team into the Stanley Cup Final.
Obviously, the organization will do whatever it takes to right the somewhat rocking ship. Whatever happens, Bjork has had an impressive season, and he appears to be well on his way to a stellar career.