This week's Frozen Pool Forensics looks at young forwards potentially being job thieves. 

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In continuing our look at potential candidates to nip at the heels of established players, and potentially take the bread right out of their mouths, this week on Frozen Pool is a dig into the forward corps.

 

Of all the positions, forwards usually have the easiest time transitioning to the big leagues; especially if they are particularly gifted at either the defensive or offensive end – or heck, even both.

 

The tricky part is if you’re just ‘okay’ at both and not great at either, you’ll need seasoning. This year there are an abundance of youngsters either ready to shoot up the depth chart or primed to take their NHL teams by storm as rookies. Whether that youthful exuberance fades away in November or continue to blossom throughout the year is yet to be decided.

 

With that in mind, here are a few guys out to steal some jobs this season.

 

Andre Burakovsky

 

The 2013 first round selection surprised many by cracking a very deep Capitals’ squad two years ago as a fresh-faced 19-year-old. That season, he played 53 games and compiled 22 points while bouncing between the press box and the middle six. He followed that up with a nice sophomore campaign where he cemented his position in the lineup and produced 38 points.

 

The slick Swedish forward is capable of playing both centre and left wing, and found a home on the team’s third line last season where he managed to produce 34 of his 38 points at even-strength – including all 17 of his goals. That production at five-on-five represented the 59th best total league wide third most on the Capitals behind just Alex Ovechkin (31) and Justin Williams (18).

 

Coming into 2016-17, reports are flowing in with a more confident, faster and stronger Burakovsky who is taking dead aim at the left-wing slot next to fellow-young star, Evgeni Kuznetsov on the second line. To do so, he’ll need to supplant incumbent Marcus Johansson. Additionally, it appears a position on the second power play unit should be his to lose after Jason Chimera’s departure.

Andre Burakovsky says he got "a lot stronger" over the summer to prepare to take Chimera's spot on the power play. — Chris Gordon (@Chris_Gordon) September 25, 2016

Burakovsky proved his mettle during the second half of the season where he produced 28 points in the final 42 games, and had a stretch during the third quarter where his put up a point-per-game through 18 contests. With a boost from just the 48 seconds of average power play time, and a firmer position next to an all-world talent, Burakovsky is in line for a substantial boost in production. Twenty-five goals and 50 points is well within his reach with more to come in future season.

 

Third Quarter Summary

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

Pace

+/-

PIM

Shots

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

PPTOI

%PP

%PK

TOI/G

%TOI

18

8

10

18

1.00

82

5

4

37

8

0

2

0

7

01:17

22.4

0.0

14:06

23.3

 

 

 

At just 21 years of age, Burakovsky is a player to watch shoot up the scoring leaderboards.

 

 

Oliver Bjorkstrand

 

Compared to a year ago, there isn’t much confidence in Blue Jackets’ players to produce fantasy relevant points this season. The lack of a top-line centre and the presence of John Tortorella has made sure of that. However, second-year pro Oliver Bjorkstrand may just change that perception.

 

The ultra-talented Danish winger had a wildly successful junior career with the Portland Winterhawks where he piled up 290 points in 193 WHL contests (1.5 points-per-game). The slight Bjorkstrand followed that up by proving his critics wrong that his offensive game may not be able to translate to the professional ranks by having a strong rookie AHL season scoring 29 points in 51 games.

 

It was during the second season that he really began to shine, and provided a mammoth-sized boost for the eventual Calder Cup Champions. Bjorkstrand recorded 10 goals and 16 points through 17 playoff games – six of which were game-winners (an AHL playoff record) – and the final one was the overtime championship winning goal. That effort earned him the Jack A. Butterfield award as AHL playoff MVP.

 

There’s clutch and then there’s Bjorkstrand-in-the-spring-of-2016-clutch.

 

The 2013 third round pick also got his feet wet in 12 NHL games, seeing time opposite Brandon Saad within the team’s top six. There he produced an impressive four goals and eight points while receiving over two minutes of time with the man-advantage (2:08).

 

Power Play Line Combinations

 

Freq

Line Combination

39.3%

ATKINSON,CAM – BJORKSTRAND,OLIVER – JENNER,BOONE – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

19.7%

ATKINSON,CAM – BJORKSTRAND,OLIVER – JENNER,BOONE – SAAD,BRANDON

14.8%

BJORKSTRAND,OLIVER – FOLIGNO,NICK – SAAD,BRANDON – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

13.1%

ATKINSON,CAM – BJORKSTRAND,OLIVER – DUBINSKY,BRANDON – SAAD,BRANDON

13.1%

BJORKSTRAND,OLIVER – SAAD,BRANDON – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those who fear the ‘Torts Factor,’ take solace in the fact that the notoriously hard-nosed coach raved about Bjorkstrand during his brief stint with the Blue Jackets, and also played with his father many moons ago at the University of Maine – for what it’s worth.

 

Coming into training camp, Bjorkstrand should have an inside track to secure a position in a scoring role, but first he’ll need to outperform veteran wingers, Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno. If he does that, he should receive the opportunities necessary to potentially contend for the Calder Trophy.

 

David Pastrnak

 

The guy affectionately known as ‘Pasta’ is another example of how young, skilled forwards can be fast-tracked to the big leagues. He surprised many by making the Bruins mere moments after being drafted 25th overall in 2014. That season, playing in a middle-six role, Pastrnak impressed by producing 10 goals and 27 points in 46 NHL contests.

 

His sophomore season was hampered by injury but he still managed a .51 point-per-game pace by scoring 15 goals and 26 points through 51 games while seeing virtually no power play time (0:28 per game). He was especially solid in his last 22 games, where he scored nine even-strength markers while seeing just over 13 minutes of ice a game.

 

Fourth Quarter Summary

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

Pace

+/-

PIM

Shots

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

PPTOI

%PP

%PK

TOI/G

%TOI

22

9

1

10

0.45

37

0

10

52

26

0

0

0

3

00:08

3.0

0.0

13:39

22.5

 

 

 

Coming off an appearance with the Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey, the slick winger has added muscle to his slighter frame and looks stronger and more confident on the ice. He spent the majority of his time last season flanking David Krejci and will battle with Jimmy Hayes, Matt Beleskey and the incoming David Backes in an attempt to secure his spot in the top six. He could potentially even find his way to the top power play unit as the departed Loui Eriksson’s spot will need to be filled.

 

An increase in prime ice and some chemistry with Krejci would do wonders for the third-year NHLer. While he’s likely still a season away from his main breakout, Pasta has a real shot at approaching 20 goals and 50 points.

 

Quick Hits

 

A few more forwards capable of poaching some prime duties next season:

 

  • Mathew Barzal – The Islanders 2015 first round selection is tantalizingly close to making his NHL debut. The exquisite puck distributor has an eye on the second line centre job in Brooklyn this season. If he cracks the roster, it’ll be in an offensive role.

 

  • Rickard Rakell Despite abdominal surgery that held him out of the WCoH, Rackell is still in a very nice spot in Anaheim. Capable at playing both centre and wing, Rackell may find a home next to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry if things shake out well. He formed nice chemistry with Perry last season. He’ll need to sign a contract before anything can happen though.

 

  • Dylan Strome – Top prospect and former third overall selection is ready for an NHL job. He’ll be gunning for Martin Hanzal’s spot on line one and while he may not begin the year there, he’s got a good shot at finishing it in that spot.

 

  • Tyler Motte – Former Michigan standout is geared up to crack the Blackhawks roster. His most likely starting place? On a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Richard Panik, and fellow rookie Nick Schmaltz, stand in his way.

 

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Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I often give unsolicited fantasy advice that I’m sure at least someone is listening to.