(We’re trying out new writers here at Chowder! This post was written by Brendan Bettez.)
Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have been inseparable as linemates ever since 2011. Whether the team was making a run at the Cup or missing the playoffs, the Bratrice pair has been a fixture, year in and year out.
However, despite all the chemistry these two have together, they haven’t been able to find that consistent third linemate since Tyler Seguin was traded away in the summer of 2013.
Reilly Smith tried his best for a while before being traded, and David Backes couldn’t handle the pace. David Pastrnak actually worked out just fine, but without him alongside David Krejci, the Bruins became easy to game plan against with only one truly threatening line.
To many fans, it looked like acquiring a veteran via trade or free agency was the only solution. This need for a top-six forward, coupled with Don Sweeney’s quiet offseason, is exactly why many media members unfamiliar with the Bruins prospects predicted the team to regress this year.
The key part of that sentence is “unfamiliar with the Bruins prospects.” The writer of that piece clearly either didn’t know very much about Anders Bjork.
In his defense, Bjork’s still somewhat of an unknown commodity; however, he has been quite impressive over the past few months. After lighting it up during the NCAA regionals for Notre Dame (5 points in 2 games), he stood out amongst the other rookies and draft picks at Development Camp. He then carried that momentum into the preseason where he got a lot of minutes on the top unit with — that’s right — Bergeron and Marchand.
That brings us to a simple question: is Bjork the answer?
At this point, it’s impossible to be sure, but it makes a lot of sense. Obviously throwing a rookie on your top line isn’t ideal. That being said, Bjork isn’t your typical rookie.
He’s played three years of college hockey in one of the nation’s toughest conferences, Hockey East. This past year, he was one of the top five scorers and was a nominee for the Hobey Baker, an award given to the best player in college hockey.
While he didn’t win, the nomination shows that he can succeed at a high level. If you’re still skeptical, take a look at some other guys to come out of Hockey East recently: Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin, etc.
Granted, those names were slightly bigger coming out of college, but it goes to show that these college players can make the jump. It also brings to mind the ultimate question: what can we expect from Anders Bjork this season?
Honestly, there’s a ton of factors that go into this, but let’s start by taking a look at the ideal scenario.
In a perfect world, Bjork plays the season wire-to-wire on the top line with a healthy Marchand and Bergeron, and everything clicks. Bergeron wins another Selke, Marchand has another season near the top of the NHL points leaderboard and the Bruins have one of the best top lines in the league.
In this scenario, one could see Bjork easily putting up 50 or maybe even 60 points.
Playing with two amazing linemates helps Bjork’s skill level grow exponentially, and he ends up being the next Johnny Gaudreau. Might as well shoot for the stars, right? Of course, Bjork doesn’t really have the ceiling of a Johnny Gaudreau, but it’s fun to dream.
I expect Bjork to play a majority of the season on the top line with a few injuries here or there, along with a few cold streaks. Even veterans have trouble finding consistency, so it’s entirely likely we see Bjork go through a stretch or two of goalless or pointless streaks. These are natural.
The most important thing is that the media and the Bruins brain trust do not overreact when he hits a bad spell.
The last thing we need is for Bjork’s confidence to be shot by a movement to the fourth line or Providence.
I trust Bruce Cassidy in this department. His experience as an AHL coach gave him a lot of time working with young players just like Bjork, and if all goes well, the Bruins will have a steal of a fifth-round pick and a solution to the Seguin-sized hole on the Bratrice line.