Oh, how the headlines were different a year ago. “Anders Bjork shows Bruins a versatile skill set.” “Bruins’ Bjork a candidate for top line duty.” “Anders Bjork could be Bruins top rookie in 2017-18.” All of those opportunities are certainly still there for the 22-year-old. It’s the climb to those achievements that has become that much harder than at the beginning of last season.
After beginning the season in the top six, his performance slowed enough to where his place in the lineup was dropping. That came to a head on January 28th vs. the Ducks where he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. What’s happened between now and then to change his place in the Bruins’ system? Jake DeBrusk showed he can keep up his incredible pace of play over the course of an entire season. Ryan Donato joined the club and proved his shot is certainly NHL ready. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Trent Frederic pushed their way through training camp looking for spots on the roster. Other prospects, free-agent signings and trade assets also look to find the ice ahead of Bjork, who has lost a lot of his leverage.
Still, there’s hope for Bjork to adapt to the NHL completely and show off his skill set. A tremendous winger and a two-way player, he’s trying to shine in every aspect. When he has the puck, he has an incredibly accurate shot. One of the reasons he was such a highly touted prospect was that he evolved himself over the course of his college career from an “average” scorer to one of the most elite point getters in the NCAA. Off the puck, he’s always trying to become more responsible and make sure he puts himself in a good position to start a drive the other way.
As he got healthier over the summer, Bjork himself had this to say thanks to Steve Conroy:
“(I concentrated on) some stuff in the (defensive) zone, just being more responsible and smarter, not jumping in when I don’t have to, closing on guys at the right time,” said Bjork. “Also, I want to try to shoot the puck more. I’ve been working on my shot a lot more over the summer. I’m more confident in it and I want to use that confidence to shoot more and shoot from good areas. That’s really important for me to take my game to the next level.”
No doubt it takes time for younger players to adapt to the speed of the professional game, and we as Bruins fans have gotten spoiled with the likes of DeBrusk and Donato who took little to no time to prove their worthiness. If there’s one thing that needs to be stressed going into the season, it’s to have faith in Bjork. His ceiling is still high, and competition can always bring out the best in people. Worst case scenario, he finds himself eating minutes in a more defensive role on the fourth line. Best case? He’s competing with Donato for minutes on the second line, or even pairing with Bergeron and Marchand up top. Between DeBrusk, Donato, and Bjork if he can show he’s ready for the big-time, Bruce Cassidy will have a plethora of terrifying line combinations to unleash on opponents.
Can the Notre Dame man fight through and show us what he’s got? We won’t know until the puck hits the ice.
10. Jeremy Swayman
9. Ryan Fitzgerald
8. Trent Frederic
7. Peter Cehlarik
6. Jeremy Lauzon
5. Jakub Zboril
4. Urho Vaakanainen
2. Anders Bjork