Our Top 25 Under 25 countdown enters the home stretch, where we get to the best young players on the NHL roster. Did I arrange the schedule specifically so I would have this one? I can neither confirm nor deny:
#3: Oliver Bjorkstrand
3rd out of 34 eligible players
Writers’ Vote: 3rd
Readers’ Vote: 3rd
Highest Placement: 1st (10 votes - I’m not one of them, I swear!)
Most Common Placement: 3rd (48 votes)
Birthdate: April 10, 1995
Birthplace: Herning, Denmark
Weight: 177 lbs
Position: Right wing
Acquired: Drafted by Columbus in the 3rd Round (89th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft
BJORKSTRAND took a big step forward in 2017-18, playing a full NHL season for the first time. He suited up in all 82 games and 6 playoff games. While only scoring 11 goals on a career-low 6.7% shooting, he did contribute 29 assists for a 40 point season. The table was set for a locked-in spot in the top 6.
The 2018-19 season did NOT start that way. Over the first 41 games, Bjorkstrand scored just 6 goals and 7 assists on 8.2% shooting, and saw his ice time dwindle to just 11:57 per game. Even I, his longtime cheerleader, had lost faith that he would become the elite winger of my dreams.
Fortunately he flipped a switch in the second half and became a BJORKSTRAND like we had never seen before. The rest of the year saw him scoring 17 goals and 23 points on 19.3% shooting. Yet his ice team still remained relatively low, at 12:47 per game. He saved the best for last, with a 6 game goal scoring streak in late March to propel the Blue Jackets into the playoffs. He scored 9 goals in the final 10 games, including twice in a critically important win over Montreal.
He (like much of the offense) went cold against Boston but BJORKSTRAND was a factor in the sweep of Tampa, scoring the game winner in each of the home games. Let’s watch that Game 4 goal again, shall we? This occurred just 54 seconds after Tampa came back to tie it up.
BJORKSTRAND has been a full-time member of the roster for two seasons now, but has yet to be a consistent player for an entire season. That is the challenge facing him this fall. The deepest forward position on the team is on the right wing, where he will battle Josh Anderson for second line minutes. Will one of them switch to the left side? If he can continue to be a finisher, he could help get Alex Wennberg’s game back on track. Note that BJORKSTRAND’s late season tear came with Wennberg (and Boone Jenner) as linemates. Per the WOWY chart, each of BJORKSTRAND and Wennberg had much better shot ratios with each other than without. (Both graphics from the excellent site HockeyViz.com)