COLUMBUS, Ohio - Oliver Bjorkstrand played in dozens of big hockey games this spring (including a Memorial Cup title game), but some of his most nervous moments came while seated in an air-conditioned hockey arena in the middle of June.
Normally a cool customer who doesn't show a lot of emotion on the ice, Bjorkstrand - a Danish Minnesotan - couldn't help but yield to the excitement of knowing his NHL dream was one step closer to becoming the real deal. Thankfully for him, the NHL Draft order moved expeditiously at the Prudential Center and when pick No. 89 rolled around, he could exhale.
Less than two weeks later, he was bound for Ohio's capital city and Blue Jackets development camp, an experience he was looking forward to as soon as he heard about it.
"This is really exciting," Bjorkstrand told BlueJackets.com. "It’s been a long year for me and I was really anxious to know what was going to happen this season (with the draft). Columbus drafted me – which was great – and I’m obviously really happy about that and I’m happy to be here this week."
For a kid who has played a lot of hockey this year - 68 regular-season games with Portland, a WHL playoff tournament, the Memorial Cup and also the Division 1A World Junior tournament - having the opportunity to come to Columbus and not focus so much on the "hockey side" of development has been a unique and welcomed experience.
The prospects have taken part in off-ice workouts, classes on financial responsibility, digital media do's/don'ts and learning how to cook. One of the best aspects of that is getting to know the other players, Bjorkstrand said.
"I like it a lot," he said. "We get to meet all the coaches, staff, and also the other young players who are part of the team and who are part of the organization. It’s an exciting week and one that I’ve been looking forward to."
As a first-year member of the Portland Winterhawks (WHL), one of junior hockey's renowned powerhouses and a club that has produced scores of NHL regulars including Blue Jackets forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Johansen, Bjorkstrand came to North America expecting to gain a lot of experience. He got everything he bargained for and a whole lot more.
The Winterhawks, led by top NHL Draft prospect Seth Jones and notable names like St. Louis Blues prospect Ty Rattie, were once again a force to be reckoned with in the WHL and were undoubtedly the top team in the league. Portland earned a WHL championship in 2012-13 with Bjorkstrand playing a big role; he was close to being a point-per-game player in his first junior hockey season with 31 goals 63 points in 68 games for a team that won 57 regular-season games.
When Bjorkstrand leaves Columbus, he hopes to have an idea of what the Blue Jackets would like him to work on before the upcoming season begins. He will play at least one more season with Portland, he said, and hopefully it will include another helping of games on the big stage.
"I feel like I’ve played in a lot of big hockey games now and with a lot of good players," Bjorkstrand said. "At this point, you kind of know where you stand now with the competition and there are a lot of good players (in junior hockey).
"There’s a lot of competition, too, which is good for young guys like myself."