We’re continuing our review of the 2016-17 Blue Jackets, one player at a time.
As a reminder, we’re utilizing Ryan Stimson’s “Playing Styles” as a starting point to look at each player. Based on 5v5 data analysis, Stimson identified four archetypes each for defensive and offensive players.
Two important things: first, don’t let the words he chooses for each style’s title be the only understanding of each type that you have. If you haven’t already read Ryan’s work, we highly recommend doing so. Second, look at each player’s shape as a measure against each axis. The total area doesn’t matter, rather, what matters is how strong they are (how much farther out in the wheel) on each measure.
For each side of the ice, we’ve also picked two players (one on each extreme of a good to not-so-good scale) to show as comparison for each Jackets player. For forwards, you’ll see each Jacket lined up against Sidney Crosby and Cody McLeod. And for defensemen, your comparison points are Mark Borowiecki and Victor Hedman. We’ll leave it to you to figure out who of those combinations is on the good and not-so-good side of the scales.
It’s also important to note that these visuals are based on the past two seasons of data, and that this past season’s information is still incomplete.
PLAYER: Oliver Bjorkstrand
ROLE: Forward (RW)
AGE: 22 (04/10/1995)
2016-17 REGULAR SEASON: 26 GP, 6 G 7 A 13 PTS
2016-17 PLAY-OFFS: 5 GP, 0 G 1 A 1 PT
PLAYING STYLE: Balanced (based on 199.1 minutes of tracked data)
Following last season’s excellent run in his rookie pro campaign with the Calder Cup champion Lake Erie Monsters, it’s reasonable to say that expectations for Oliver Bjorkstrand’s 2016/17 season ranged from high to out-of-this-world. Before I continue further, it also must be noted that Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the Cup-winning overtime goal for the Monsters, because OF COURSE I’m going to note it. Unfortunately, the Cup-clinching magic didn’t immediately carry over into the start of the season, as Bjorkstrand was relatively benign in the pre-season, and was not impressive in his first three NHL games, going pointless in 33 minutes of icetime, and was quietly demoted to the Cleveland Monsters. After a slow start with the Monsters (just 1+1 in his initial seven games with the team), Bjorkstrand found his stride, notching 24 points (13+11) in 30 games on one of the bottom-three scoring teams in the AHL, and found his way back into the Columbus line-up in mid-February, where he took off.
In 21 games after his re-call, Bjorkstrand met and surpassed those early season expectations. The 21-year-old put up 6 goals and 6 assists in limited icetime, which, on the surface, isn’t exactly a jaw-dropping number. But grading his scoring out on a per-60 basis paints another picture entirely. His over-all 2.47 5v5 points per 60 placed him 8th in the entire NHL among players with 300+ 5v5 minutes, and in just those final 21 games played, his 2.78 points per 60 would have been in the top five league-wide. As with all rate-adjusted scoring, this does not mean that Bjorkstrand is one of the top five scoring players in the league, just one of the most efficient and effective in his allotted icetime. Another encouraging note is that nearly all of the players surrounding Bjorkstrand in points-per-60 are high-end players, excellent middle-six options, or Sidney Crosby’s linemates:
Laser-quick, strong, accurate, and able to be fired with minimal backswing, Bjorkstrand’s shot is his greatest weapon. He rarely slaps the puck, choosing to streak in and snap off wristers. He’s got a knack for getting into the slot and around the net, and is constantly in motion, looking to separate from his checker and get into shooting position. This has shown in the results: Bjorkstrand produced scoring chances at a rate which was not just the best mark among Jackets players – it was second best in the entire NHL, trailing only Auston Matthews. As with the scoring rate, I am not saying that Bjorkstrand is better than players like Crosby or Connor McDavid, only that you will typically find difference-makers or offensive weapons hanging around that company.
A major reason for Bjorkstrand’s ability to generate scoring chances is his tenaciousness on the forecheck, fighting for pucks on the boards, as well as around and behind the net. He battles for possession of the puck, using sneaky stick checks to knock them loose, and body positioning and elusiveness to maintain control.
While it’s may be a little early to say Bjorkstrand is a surefire top six forward, his 38 NHL games so far have shown that at the very least, he’s an incredibly effective bottom six forward with enough individual scoring prowess to carry a lower line. That’s a valuable asset to have, even if he doesn’t move up in the line-up to start the season.
The major knock against Bjorkstrand is his slight stance and lack of upper body strength. We’ve discussed his ferocious forecheck, but unfortunately it can be a bit too easy to muscle Bjorkstrand out of a battle at times, and he does not have the core strength to fight back if he’s caught a bit off-balance. It was rare to see a disappearing act for an entire game from Bjorkstrand, but the period to period consistency needs to continue to ramp up.
As with any set of results over such a small sample, it is a real question mark as to whether Bjorkstrand can continue to produce at a similar rate over a longer period of time. At even strength, Bjorkstrand played the majority of his minutes with Alex Wennberg and Nick Foligno – which seems a bit of a stretch to see happening again. Instead, Bjorkstrand may see more sheltered offensive-zone-heavy minutes, and with lesser linemates like Lukas Sedlak, Matt Calvert, Jordan Schroeder, Tyler Motte, Sonny Milano or, perhaps, Pierre-Luc Dubois. For Bjorkstrand, that could prove to be a weakness, as losing the passing ability of Wennberg as his pivot could seriously impact his production.
Oliver Bjorkstrand will come into camp for the third season in a row with heightened expectations. This year, he will need to truly take a big step forward and show that he belongs in the NHL immediately. He plays on the crowded CBJ right wing, likely slotting in behind Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson and, perhaps, Josh Anderson, which may mean that Bjorkstrand doesn’t get the icetime required to be a true explosive offensive weapon. Before the acquisition of Artemi Panarin, Bjorkstrand was the logical successor to Sam Gagner in the slot position on the CBJ’s first powerplay in 2017/18. While he won’t get that opportunity to start the season, he should see some power play time on the team’s second unit, and perhaps give it the kick in the pants that it was lacking over the past two seasons.
To me, if Bjorkstrand can keep up a points-per-60 rate hovering around 1.75 to 2 at evens, along with even a modicum of powerplay production, it will be seen as a tremendous win in the upcoming season. His play during the final quarter of 2016/17 has certainly set the bar high.
– Jeremy Crowe
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