Going from junior hockey to the pros is no easy task. When you are dealing with an injury early on in your transition, it makes the jump more difficult. That’s where Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand found himself early on.
After going through Blue Jackets training camp, the team assigned him to their top junior team, the Lake Erie Monsters, in the hope that he’ll play key minutes. The season didn’t start the way he would have hoped.
Then the Blue Jackets announced that Bjorkstrand would miss four to six weeks with an upper body injury. There was no surgery involved, and the team told the Columbus Dispatch that it was not a concussion.
Monsters coach Jared Bednar told Cleveland.com’s Tim Warsinskey that Bjorkstrand’s injury had him off to a rough start. “He was playing tentative. He wasn’t playing hard in some of the areas that he had to play hard, and I think that was because he was hurting more than he was letting on. We found out he has something going on there.”
Bjorkstrand has since come back to the Monsters lineup. On the season now, he has played in 17 games, and has 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists).
We recently caught up with the former WHL 60-goal scorer to see how he is adjusting to the pros. We talked about his health, where he feels his game at, how he’s had to adjust to the AHL game.
“I feel better.”, Bjorkstrand told me. “Those first few games coming back, you feel a little slow, and maybe in those situations, you don’t react the way you are supposed to. I’m feeling better now, and every game I feel like I’m getting better.”
Welcome To The Pros
Bjorkstrand then commented on the biggest difference he has seen early in the AHL season.
“You play against older guys and against guys who know how to play hockey the right way. You can’t make the same kind of mistakes. You gotta ready in the defensive zone. You get a little less chances in the game so you just be ready for that.”
I asked him what adjustments he has had to make in his own game: “Be ready defensively, whenever I have a chance, be a little sharper. The defensive part is a huge part of it.”
Is size any more of an issue here as it was in the WHL: “I feel like it depends on who you are. I feel like I know my way around against bigger guys. I feel like I know how to be ready for a hit.”
Bjorkstrand is confident in himself and his game in spite of his smaller stature. He’s had to play like that his whole career, so it isn’t new for him. But just like any other player, he stressed how important defense is. This part of his game is admittedly in progress. As he gains more experience in these games, that will come around for him.
I finally asked Bjorkstrand if Blue Jackets management had a message for him for this season in Lake Erie: “Adapt to pro hockey, learn how to play the right way, sometimes you get away from that.” Bjorkstrand is certainly learning the ins and outs of the pro game. He realizes there is much work to do.
Bjorkstrand sees what is in front of him. His focus is improving his overall game, especially on the defensive end of the rink. He’s embraced the process and says he is getting better by the game. He is healthy now and ready to make an impact on both the Monsters and the AHL. We can’t wait to see what he can do in his first full pro season.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.