When Anders Bjork’s name was listed among the final large group cuts made by the Boston Bruins ahead of this season, it was a bit surprising to some. The 23-year-old believed he had a strong training camp, and he wasn’t the only one to feel that way. Various reports out of Boston’s camp had good things to say about the third-year pro.
Despite the fact that much of his play in the preseason was encouraging, one important number jumped out: zero goals. While the former Notre Dame stand-out tallied a pair of assists and seven shots in four preseason games, his inability to break into the goals column was a fitting embodiment of the struggles the young forward has had breaking into the NHL scene.
Injury and Scoring Woes
Bjork was drafted as a goal-scoring winger by the Bruins back in 2014, and his time in college showed us just why. In three years with the Fighting Irish, Bjork totaled 40 goals and 69 assists in 115 games, including a 21-goal season (in 39 games played) in his final college season. He was a force offensively, and his knack for finding the back of the net helped propel him to a three-goal showing at the World Junior Championship in 2016.
The Bruins hoped that the skilled winger, with a bit of fine-tuning, could transition that scoring from college to the pros. But like many talented goal-scorers, that transition hasn’t been quite as smooth as he would have hoped.
Since breaking onto the professional scene, Bjork’s magic touch has seemed elusive. He made his NHL debut in Oct. 2017, and early signs were promising for the then-21-year-old. In his first seven games, Bjork tallied three goals and three assists, even earning some time on the Bruins’ powerplay. Over the next two months, however, the rookie would tally just one more goal and four more assists while dealing with some injury issues, until finally, a cross-check from Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin in January ended his season.
Last season, in his second year pro, he suffered an all-too-familiar fate. The sophomore pro got early time with the NHL squad but had very little to show for it. Twenty games played over the span of October and November resulted in just one goal and two assists. After being sent back down to Boston’s AHL team in Providence, Bjork suffered another shoulder injury that would derail his season.
Bjork’s injuries over the past two seasons have forced him to spend much more time than he’d like to undergoing physical rehab. He’s spent that time building himself up both physically and mentally.
“It was tough to watch, but I was thinking, ‘What if I was out there, what would I be doing, how can I help this team offensively or be solid defensively?” Bjork said (from ‘Bruins’ Anders Bjork has healthy outlook despite shoulder injuries’, Boston Globe – 10/7/19). “I’ve had a lot of time to train. I didn’t want to get too heavy and lose any speed, but getting stronger, my upper body for shooting and winning my battles.
The Road Back to the NHL
Back in Providence to start this season, Bjork is hoping to make use of everything that he’s learned over the past two seasons, both on the ice and off of it, to propel himself back to the NHL, this time for good. The winger was disappointed not to make the Bruins roster out of camp, but he’s dealt with too much adversity to let another setback slow him down.
“Everyone wants to play in the NHL,” said Bjork at Providence’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center last week. “But there are definitely things I can work on. I had good conversations with [Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy] and management as well. I appreciate their thoughts and the advice they gave me, what I need to work on. I agree with it. It’s good we’re on the same page there. Obviously, players can look at it as a negative, getting sent down and not playing exactly where you want to be. But personally I’m excited about this opportunity to work on things and maybe play a bit more and maybe develop my game to get it to where I want it to be.”from ‘Anders Bjork honing his game for a Boston return’, Boston Herald – 10/13/19
What are the Bruins looking for? Goals, goals, goals. The Bruins have seen Bjork’s talent and work ethic, but they need to see results from a player that they drafted to score, and he’s aware of that.
“I had a good amount of chances in the preseason and I realize what my strengths are in getting to those areas for chances,” he said, per the Boston Herald. “Now I think I just need to get a little bit of my touch back and find ways to finish more of those plays and consistently produce.”
“Getting to those areas” has been something of an adjustment for Bjork, a left-handed shot who spent most of his time on the right-wing before moving to the left side for this season. The six-foot winger is now lined up on his strong side, an opportunity he says has allowed him to make quicker plays. He also identified cutting in toward the middle of the ice as a problem he wanted to address. As a left-handed shot on the right wing, there’s a heavy temptation to cut toward open space in the middle of the ice – a move that can net you a lot of goals in EA Sports’ NHL 20 but can get you into some trouble in real life.
“I think that got me into trouble a bit when I was up with Boston the last couple of years,” he said, per the Boston Herald. “I think I had a tendency to do that from college. I think I want to drive the puck down and to the net more and being on the my forehand on the left helps with that.”
So far, Bjork game has backed up his talk. Through the first four games of the season, the 23-year-old has tallied three goals and two assists for five points, good enough for the team lead. Like their varsity counterpart, the Providence Bruins have looked strong so far this season, and Bjork has played a large role in that. It’s very early in the season, but for now, the numbers are there, and so is the work ethic.
“He’s come down and been excellent,” said Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach, per the Boston Herald. “He’s on the ice after practice, he’s all in. He’s terrific. He played a bunch both nights. He’s owning the puck, he wants to make a difference, he wants to make plays. All I’ve seen is a desire to get back there, and he’s going to let his play speak for that.”
If Bjork can continue producing for Providence, it may not be long until he gets another look in the NHL.