Oliver Bjorkstrand made his return to the NHL versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. This was his first NHL game since December 10th against the New York Islanders. He managed to record just one assist in his five previous games in the 2016-17 season before he was reassigned to the AHL Cleveland Monsters. On Wednesday, Bjorkstrand looked sharp in his return to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Oliver Bjorkstrand Looked Sharp in His Return to the Columbus Blue Jackets
Prior to the season, many people thought Oliver Bjorkstrand would make the Jackets roster for good. This included head coach John Tortorella. “I thought he was going to crack (the lineup) earlier than right now. Maybe this is chance for him to push the door open,” Torts told the media ahead of the game. The 21-year-old winger took full advantage of his most recent chance.
Playing to Earn a Spot
Right off the bat, Bjorkstrand was noticeable, both with the puck and away from it. He pursued pucks with fervor and forechecked hard. Along with that, he engaged in plenty of board battles, something that he could continue to improve on. It’s still apparent that adding some more muscle in the off-season could help his game in a couple areas. Throughout the game Bjorkstrand also had solid positioning while he was on the ice.
Bjorkstrand was on the top line with Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad. Playing with these fast, skilled players helped Bjorkstrand to thrive on offense. He wasn’t afraid to get in front of the net, and he helped to create chances. Bjorkstrand was rewarded for his hard work early in the second period when he scored his first goal of the season on a breakaway. The play was set up by Saad and Wennberg, and Bjorkstrand was able to finish it off with a wrist shot to the upper-right corner of the goal.
As a bonus to getting another chance in the NHL, Bjorkstrand also saw time on the power play. He got an opportunity on the team’s second unit. Although the second unit didn’t score, Bjorkstrand got one good chance, getting a shot off from the slot. The young Dane finished the game with 3 shots on goal, 14 total shot attempts, and 13:21 of ice time, of which 2:17 came on the man-advantage.
Expectations Down the Line
Oliver Bjorkstrand made a very strong case in his return to the Blue Jackets lineup. Even though it was only one game, it was clear he was playing for a permanent spot on the team. Since Scott Hartnell’s injury isn’t expected to be long-term, someone is going to have to be scratched.
The choice that makes the most sense would be to give Sam Gagner a couple games off. After a hot start to the season, it’s been 24 games since Gagner has found the back of the net. Hartnell has been one of the more productive bottom six forwards recently, so he shouldn’t be the one to sit out. The fact that Gagner and Bjorkstrand both play right wing makes it an easy enough swap. If Bjorkstrand does displace Gagner, it is important that he gets top six minutes, as he seems to do best with other skilled players on his line. Hopefully Bjorkstrand continues to bolster his case for a permanent spot, and help to get the Blue Jackets hot again.