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Bjorkstrand more confident, comfortable in second year at Jackets camp

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Trade one pick, acquire two picks in return.

It sounds good enough on the surface, of course, but backing it up was the belief of GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff that they would still be able to select the player they wanted at pick No. 50, the higher of the two picks they would receive in return.

The Blue Jackets made the deal with Pittsburgh and selected defenseman Dillon Heatherington of Swift Current (WHL) at No. 50, but with their second pick, they were also hoping to get a good value selection.

When a small, shifty scorer from Denmark named Oliver Bjorkstrand was available at No. 89, there were a lot of happy campers at the Columbus draft table.

Bjorkstrand was, at most, 160 pounds when he was drafted, but the Blue Jackets believed there was plenty of room to grow both physically and as a hockey player.

And though he was a third-line player on a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks team (led by current Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston), Bjorkstrand scored at nearly a point-per-game pace (31 goals, 32 assists and was +38 in 65 games) after making the jump from the Danish league AL-Bank Ligaen.

He is still a year away from professional hockey, but Bjorkstrand has taken a business-like approach in his second Blue Jackets training camp after opening some eyes in his first go-round last fall. He’s added 10 pounds of muscle in the past year, with and has managed to maintain the elusiveness and quickness that help him find the “quiet ice.”

“I’ve kind of been approaching the offseason and camp the same as I always do,” Bjorkstrand told “But I guess the main difference for me here, this year, is that I’m not a new guy anymore and I kind of know how things work. Last year was all new.

“When I come here, I just to try work hard, you know? It’s not hard to get motivated when you come to an NHL camp and you’re around this. It’s a dream to make this team one day. When you come here, you want to do your absolute best and show your game off. That’s what I’m trying to do every time I’m here.”

Barring something unforeseen, Bjorkstrand will head back to Portland this season and play a front-line role for the Winterhawks.

Those aren’t unrealistic expectations, either, considering the off-the-charts season he had in 2013-14.

As a 19-year-old, Bjorkstrand scored 50 goals and 109 points in only 69 games, leading Portland offensively in the regular season - and he continued that torrid pace in the postseason. He also scored 16 goals and 33 points in 21 playoff games for the Winterhawks, a significant breakout season for a player who everyone knew was skilled.

Bjorkstrand said playing for Johnston, who will now work with NHL superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, was one of the best things to happen in his young hockey career.

“I like Mike. He’s a really good coach and he taught me a lot and helped me improve my skills,” Bjorkstrand said. “I enjoyed playing for him and I was really happy to see him get that job. It’s fun to see that coaches, too, and not just players can move up from juniors.”

During last year’s training camp, Bjorkstrand saw ice time alongside some of the Blue Jackets’ top players during preseason games and stuck around perhaps longer than some expected.

Todd Richards put him on a line with Scott Hartnell (left wing) and Artem Anisimov (center) on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Jackets' 2-0 win, and Bjorkstrand said the advice and learning started in the morning skate.

“It’s exciting,” Bjorkstrand said with a smile and a shake of his head. “Really exciting. They’re both really good players and they’ve been helping me a lot in practice and also the game (last night).”

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