This was supposed to be the year that Blue Jackets’ winger, Emil Bemstrom, cemented himself as a full-time fixture in the lineup and potentially even an impact player.
Unfortunately, for the third time in as many years, his season has been derailed by injury. Bemstrom impressed in the preseason, made the team, and pretty much immediately suffered an oblique injury in practice that was estimated to sideline him for approximately 4 to 6 weeks.
It has now been 11 weeks since Emil was injured and he has yet to play a game with the Blue Jackets. Oblique injuries are notoriously tricky and can be difficult to overcome, but by all accounts Bemstrom is healed up and ready to play.
So what gives?
Yes, the team exceeded expectations earlier in the season, but with the most recent skid — prior to the Covid break — there is, in my opinion, no excuse to not get a player like Bemmer into the lineup. If this is truly a team building for the future (they are), it is infuriating to see Bemstrom rotting in the pressbox while Brad Larsen continues to ice a lineup consisting of a couple of rookies fast approaching 30 years old.
Here are my reasons why Emil Bemstrom should be in the lineup once the Jackets resume play.
He’s Earned It
Emil Bemstrom entered this season as a “man without a home.” With the influx of new talent, Bemstrom found himself often skating with the extras in training camp. Bemmer took this challenge in stride and had a great preseason, scoring 4 goals in 5 games, and was a point-per-game player. Only Oliver BJORKSTRAND had more points than Bemstrom.
Yes, this is Bemstrom’s third year in the league, and yes, many players have already established themselves by year three. However, his first three years have been anything but normal. His rookie season (2019-20) was interrupted for a month after suffering a broken rib from a cheap cross-check from Brian Boyle. He then had 6 points in his last 10 games before the league shut down at the initial outbreak of Covid.
His second NHL season was delayed, but Bemmer managed to keep playing hockey in Finland where he was playing at a point-per-game pace. He looked ready to take the next step, but after a slow start and then a high-ankle sprain kept him out of the lineup for over a month, it was looking like a lost season and one to forget. That was until May 3rd, against the Nashville Predators, where in the third period he singlehandedly brought his team back from a 3-0 deficit with his first career hat trick. Not too many folks will remember his prior struggles, but most remember this night.
He Needs to Build Confidence
Hockey players — goal scorers in particular — tend to thrive when confidence is high. When they “score in bunches,” they’re riding that high and feeding off that confidence. When goal scorers aren’t scoring goals it can feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. The only way to get past this crisis of confidence is to play through it.
Unfortunately, Bemmer has his fair share of confidence killers in his short NHL career including this one that I truly believe stuck with him from the end of the playoffs in 2020 into last season.
Head coach, Brad Larsen, knows Bemstrom is a player who needs to play with more confidence in order to have success. He had this to say about Bemstrom before the season began:
He’s got a busy mind when he’s out there, and I think it’s sometimes due to lack of confidence. When he’s playing his best, it’s less thinking, more instinct.” - Columbus Dispatch
We’ve seen what he can do when playing with confidence, but so far this year he’s had zero opportunity to build any, this time by no fault of his own.
As of this morning, it appears that Bemstrom could potentially make his debut soon, in place of Oliver BJORKSTRAND who is currently on the Covid list. Sometimes all it takes is for opportunity to knock once. If Bemmer gets the call to suit up, he needs to take advantage and not let Larsen take him back out.
Today’s #CBJ practices lines/D:— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) December 29, 2021
Goalies today: Merzlikins, Tarasov
He’s a 200-Foot Player
Everyone knows what Emil Bemstrom was brought in to do: score goals. It’s also no secret that he has sometimes struggled to show off the lethal shot that dominated in Europe. Often a player with such a defined skill set can be detrimental to his team if he is not utilizing what makes him special. Many feel this way about Bemstrom, and while in his rookie season this was sometimes the case, he has actually come a long way in terms of his all-around game. Initially Bemstrom was more of a perimeter player, often avoiding contact and generally just played a tentative game. However, he was also a 20-year-old kid learning to play a new style of hockey after playing in Europe his entire life.
It may come as a surprise to many, but once Bemstrom realized that scoring would not come as easily as it had previously in Sweden, he adjusted his game to the North American style and was an effective forechecker and was efficient in his defensive zone. In both of his abbreviated NHL seasons, he has been a net positive in essentially all advanced stats. He is over 50% in CF%, FF%, SCF% and was a very impressive 64.3 in GF% last season. Those are the numbers of a player you want on the ice, considering the Jackets are in the bottom 10 of the league in pretty much all of those stats. Even when he wasn’t scoring he was noticeable on the ice which is all you can ask for from a player when they are struggling to put up points.
Check out this play in which he breaks up the two-on-one in his own end, and then follows the play up the ice and scores the overtime game winner.
His game has grown, and he deserves a chance to show it.
More than likely, Bemstrom knows his time to make an impression with this team is running out. He was aware of that coming into the year, and as the season marches on with him being a healthy scratch, he probably can’t help but feel his chance with this team is slipping away.
Again, you can say he’s in his third season in the league and he “is what he is” by this point, but I want to point out that he still has not played a full season’s worth of games. He has 76 games under his belt along with 25 points. That’s not too shabby at all when you also consider the underlying stats that show him to be an overall effective player. He’s still just 22 years old and fits the bill in terms of what you want in a young and rebuilding team. Bemmer knows he has to earn his place with the team, and wants the opportunity to prove himself and stick around for the long-term.
“I’ve been here for almost two years now, so I’m getting more comfortable … but I’m not ‘comfortable,’ if you know what I’m saying,” he said. “I can’t do more than just do my best every day and we’ll see how that goes, but I want to be here long-term and this is probably the year I have to show that.” - Columbus Dispatch
We’ve seen many times where a player is not given a fair shake in Columbus, only to move on and have success elsewhere. If he doesn’t get in the lineup soon, I fear his name will be added to that list.