There hasn’t been much to cheer about for Columbus Blue Jacket fans lately. Two seasons ago, fans had some hope as the Blue Jackets made the playoffs and looked to be on the upswing. However, since then, they have failed to qualify for the playoffs for the past two years in a row. Even though Columbus was picked by many to well this year and possibly earn a playoff berth, a 0-8 start in their first eight games began a long and troubling season. Star center Ryan Johansen was traded and Columbus’ coach was fired as management tried to save the season. On pace to finish with 74 points, Columbus is looking at a 28th place finish and a high draft pick instead. While most fans are excited at getting a chance to draft Austin Matthews, there are a few other things to be excited about. Oliver Bjorkstrand scored a goal and an assist in last night’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and has four points in the last three games. One of the Blue Jackets’ best prospects, Bjorkstrand has seven points in 11 games and is showing glimpses of a very bright future.
Born in Denmark, Bjorkstrand started his career playing hockey in the country and quickly rose through the ranks. Finding his way to the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL, Bjorkstrand was drafted with the 26th overall pick in the import draft in 2012. In his first season with the team, Bjorkstrand scored 31 goals and 32 assists in 65 games, a near point-per-game pace to collect the award for the most goals and points by a rookie. In his next year, after being drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round of the NHL entry draft, Bjorkstrand further cemented his place amongst the best forward prospects by recording 50 goals and 59 assists for 109 points in 69 games. Not to mention, he also scored 33 points in 21 playoff games, the most goals and most points by a player in the playoffs. However, Bjorkstrand would go on to still improve as he tallied a whopping 63 goals and 55 assists in only 59 games. As an assistant captain for the Winterhawks, Bjorkstrand won collected more awards such as WHL Most Goals, WHL (West) First All-Star Team, WHL Most Points, and the WHL Player of the Year.
After lighting up the WHL, Bjorkstrand moved onto the AHL to play for the Lake Erie Monsters. His first season in the AHL, Bjorkstrand tallied 15 goals and 10 assists in 46 games. While not completely dominant, he played well enough to earn a callup to the NHL roster in mid-March and hasn’t looked back since. In 11 games so far, Bjorkstrand already has four goals and three assists while seeing around 16 minutes of ice time per game.
On a Columbus team that is lacking a true offensive superstar, Bjorkstrand is a great fit and has tons of potential. Ryan Johansen looked like he’d be the go-to offensive player for years to come but was traded this year in exchange for Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones. With Johansen out of the picture, Bjorkstrand should be given plenty of chances to eventually assume the role as the team’s top forward. With his talent and offensive abilities, Bjorkstrand has a very high ceiling and his situation only helps. There are some good, young forwards on Blue Jackets roster like Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner but no game-changing offensive talents. Bjorkstrand has a higher projected ceiling so he could be deployed in the best situations but will get the benefit of playing next to good linemates as well. Already getting a good amount of ice time and producing well, I expect Bjorkstrand to make a big impact quickly. I think he can almost replace Johansen’s production and potentially become a 70-point player in the league. For fantasy hockey leagues, Bjorkstrand is one of the game’s top prospects and represents a huge potential payoff, possibly becoming one of the best right wings in the NHL.