SUNRISE, Fla. – So, Paul Bittner, how does it feel to hear your name called at the NHL Draft?
“Excited as hell,” he said.
The disappointment of not going in the first round quickly subsided this morning, when Bittner was selected at No. 38 overall by the Blue Jackets, a team that already has a few notable Portland Winterhawks in the system – in particular, one who’s quite familiar with Bittner. Another fun note: Bittner's current billets in Portland also billeted Ryan Johansen during his time with the Winterhawks.
Along with Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand and Winnipeg Jets prospect Nic Petan, Bittner was part of one of junior hockey’s most dynamic lines this past season. Assembled after the World Junior championship, the line managed a paltry total of 148 points (54 goals, 94 assists) in a 24-game stretch through mid-March and carried the Portland offense.
Bittner was the power forward on that line, often set up by Petan (the center) and the super-skilled Bjorkstrand on the right side – though Bjorkstrand had a stellar season himself, scoring 63 goals and racking up 118 points in only 59 regular season games.
In 66 games, Bittner scored 34 goals and 71 total points, a 12 goal and 22 point jump from 2013-14.
“(Bjorkstrand) makes things easy out there and creates things (happen) on his own, when Nic and I aren’t playing up to par,” Bittner said. “That line with me, Nic and Ollie was a lot of fun…it was a lot of fun playing with those two guys. Those are the top two guys in the (WHL), for sure, and I firmly believe how good they are can be. They’re great guys. We all go really well hand-in-hand together.”
They’re line mates and good friends, too, so it’s no surprise that Bjorkstrand has been blowing up Bittner’s phone lately.
“Ollie’s been texting me all week,” Bittner laughed. “He’s been saying ‘I want Columbus to take you so bad, I want a friend here I know really well.’ He was texting me all last night, and today he was asking (when the draft starts). We’ve been texting quite a bit.
“I know he’s excited. I don’t have my phone on me, but I know he’s sending me about 10 text messages.”
If they can’t connect while Bittner’s at the draft, it’s not a big deal: both players will be at Blue Jackets development camp, which formally begins Sunday in Columbus.
Bittner doesn’t have his equipment bag with him in Florida, but that shouldn’t be an issue. He said he’d be willing to fly home to Crookston, Minn., to get his bag first and then go to Columbus.
Speaking of his hometown of Crookston, Bittner said about 50 of its finest citizens joined him and his family to celebrate the draft experience.
“I’m heading out (to Columbus) tomorrow, so I’m pretty excited,” Bittner said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m glad it’s finally over now and I get to settle in with my NHL team.”
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