The fantasy hockey potential of Blue Jackets’ prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand…
As with my last edition of The Journey, I have taken to the fan forums and social media to see what prospect(s) are being discussed and who would make a good topic for this column. The feedback I received this week was incredible. I read each response and threw everyone into a hat and this week's selection is Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand via The Comish and Oakville Squires. Of note, it was also requested to touch on three other Columbus prospects: Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano and Kirby Rychel. I love the suggestion so I will be doing the April 11th edition on this one. It was also suggested to touch on Anthony Stolarz and Ryan Pulock. To read previous editions of The Journey that touched on these players, click on the following links: (Stolarz, Pulock). I will attempt to highlight all of the other prospects requested in future editions as well.
In 2013, the Columbus Blue Jackets had five selections in the first three rounds, three of which were in the first round. By the time the 89th overall selection was up, fans and analysts in New Jersey had to have been getting tired of the Columbus constituency taking over the podium once again to select to select forward Oliver Bjorkstrand from the WHL. In this edition of The Journey, I will focus on what both the Columbus organization and fantasy owners can expect out of the enigmatic youngster.
OLIVER BJORKSTRAND– Third round (89th overall) selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2013 NHL Draft
The Denmark native is listed as 5-11 and a little over 160 pounds, both of which seem a little generous in my book. As a teenager, he played for his hometown club, switching between the Herning U17 and U20 teams. His offensive prowess was immediately noted as he ended up scoring 70 points in just 29 games for the U17 club and added 19 points in 11 games while playing for the U20 team. The immediate take-away early on was that he was a natural goal scorer who put himself in position to bury the puck any chance he got. As he progressed to the next level, his knack for showing up on the score sheet remained the same. He played in a handful of games for Herning's second team as well as playing in Denmark's Premier League (Al-Bank Ligaen) for which he posted 26 points in 36 games as one of the youngest players in the entire league. Coaches and scouts alike were taking notes and noticing that Bjorkstrand was developing into a more well-round, two-way player exuding confidence and leadership. He displayed this leadership as an assistant captain for the U18 Denmark team at the WJC and also played for the U20 team. Each team finished towards the end of the standings but the experience gained and exposure helped him to be selected with the 26th overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft by the Portland Winterhawks.
There is NEVER a guarantee that imported players can maintain their previous successes once reaching this side of the pond. The rinks are smaller and take time to adjust to and the seasons are longer, opening the door to fatigue and injury. This apparently did not apply to Bjorkstrand as he hit the ground running in Portland and registered an impressive 63 points in 65 games. What stood out was that besides almost scoring at a point-per-game pace for the season, the point distribution was basically even between goals (31) and assists (32). He was using the forecheck more to create space for his linemates and in the process was becoming more of a complete offensive player. Defense was still a work in progress, but he was fundamentally sound, a key ingredient for reducing the amount of mistakes and turnovers in his team's own zone. His success paid off as the Winterhawks took home the WHL championship and he was also a member of Denmark's Division 1A WJC team that season. His overall success in 2012-13 warranted Central Scouting to rank him as the 36th best North American skater (dual citizenship).
The 2012-13 Columbus Blue Jackets had made huge strides and were quickly ascending the standings, however, they finished 9th in the conference after the 48-game lockout-shortened season and again missed postseason play. General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen knew that his team lacked the goal scoring needed to make the next jump and solidify the club as a perennial playoff contender as the team's leading goal scorer, Mark Letestu, only registered 13 goals. Columbus had three selections in the first round and used them all on offensive players by taking Alexander Wennberg with the 14th pick, Kerby Rychel with the 19th pick and Marko Dano with the 27th pick. Just like that, the reserves were filling up in the hopes of improving their record in the next few campaigns. With most of the top-ranked defensemen off the board in the third round, Kekalainen selected Dillon Heatherington with the team's fourth selection and was then faced with another choice at number 89. He decided to continue with the team's best available player model and selected Bjorkstrand who had a mid-round grade.
Bjorkstrand returned to Portland for a second season and did not disappoint the Columbus brass. He hit the 50 goal marker for the first time in his career and also registered 59 assists for 109 points in 69 games. He finished a plus-44 which was another encouraging sign that he was embracing the role of a two-way player with above average offensive skill. He was among the league leaders in scoring and again led his team on a playoff run that ended against the Edmonton Oil Kings, who would go on to win the Memorial Cup. Satisfied with his progression, Columbus signed him to his entry-level deal that winter.
WHERE IS HE NOW?
Bjorkstrand recently completed his third junior season with Portland and continued to set career highs as he netted 63 goals to go along with 55 helpers for 118 points and was an astonishing plus-60. He continues to be an effective leader and also was named an assistant captain for Denmark's team at the WJC where he recorded five points in 5 games.
WHAT CAN FANTASY OWNERS EXPECT?
Columbus is an up-and-coming team with a nice mix of youth and veteran presence. They have a solid defensive corps and a borderline elite goaltender, which is a recipe for success. As part of the club's 2013 youth scoring movement, Bjorkstrand figures to be a key player in the Columbus offense for years to come. In my opinion, he may be more fun to watch than any of the three offensive first round picks selected ahead of him. Yes he was outplayed in training camp this past September, but his scoring touch is better defined and his intangibles are hard to bypass. He dangles, snipes and is all over ice thanks to his swift skating abilities. He won't be counted on to throw his body around and his defensive game is still in progress, however, Columbus fans likely won't mind when he is a 30+ goal scorer (if not more) on a consistent basis. He is close, and one has to think that he may even get a smell of the NHL next season, even if it's just an injury call-up as he could be destined to start 2015-16 in the American Hockey League.
Owners in keeper leagues need to stash this kid away before it's too late. The Columbus system is conducive to his style of play and the organization is grooming other talented juggernauts such as the above mentioned prospects and even Sonny Milano. Don't let their 2014-15 record fool you; this club is VERY good. The addition of a player with a skill set such as Oliver Bjorkstrand will only make life more difficult for other teams in the Eastern Conference. Heed the advice; he's a must own.
Bjorkstrand picks his spot and buries it (shootout goal)
Dobber Prospect Rank: fourth-ranked Columbus prospect
Fantasy Outlook: B
Pros: speed, offensive talent, quick/hard shot, leadership
Cons: size, physicality
Anticipated NHL Arrival: 1-2 years
Zach Hopkins is a Senior Writer and Scout for Dobberhockey and Dobberprospects. You can follow him on twitter @healedbyhockey
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