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Battalion Breakdown: Oliver Bjorkstrand

Winger set a new career high in goals in 2018-19

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Battalion Breakdown is a closer look at the Blue Jackets' past season on a player-by-player basis. Today, BlueJackets.com continues the series by looking at Oliver Bjorkstrand's season and how it impacted Columbus in the 2018-19 campaign. 

Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Number: 28 

Age: 24 

Birth date: April 10, 1995 

Height/Weight: 6-0, 177 

Position: Winger 

Nickname: "Borky/Bjorky"  

Stats (Games, G-A-P, point shares): 77 GP, 23-13-36, 4.8 PS 

Contract: Signed through 2020-21 

Oliver Bjorkstrand can score goals, but sometimes it's easy to forget just how many goals he scored in junior hockey. 

The son of Todd Bjorkstrand, a Minnesota native who made his name playing overseas in Denmark during his career, Bjorkstrand scored at a level few have touched in their junior careers while suiting up for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. 

After starting his career with teams based in his hometown of Herning, Denmark, Bjorkstrand came to North America in 2012-13 and scored 31 goals in 65 games. A year later, he had 50 goals and 109 points, and in his final season of juniors, Bjorkstrand totaled 63 goals and 118 points. 

That's 144 goals in three seasons of junior hockey, not to mention a pretty good goal-scoring clip while with the Denmark team competing at the World Juniors.  

So it was always known he could score, but the question was how long would it take to really take off at the NHL level. Bjorkstrand appeared ready three years ago when he scored 10 goals in 17 games, including the Calder Cup OT winner, during the Lake Erie Monsters' Calder Cup run. 

Entering the season: After coming up to Columbus late in the 2016-17 campaign, Bjorkstrand played his first full NHL season in 2018-19, posting an 11-29-40 line while playing in all 82 games. His offensive bona fides were coming together, and Bjorkstrand -- a true sniper, with his unique release and accurate shot -- was looked at as a key piece at wing who was expected to build upon his solid numbers from the year before. 

What happened: Bjorkstrand was a key reminder that player development isn't always linear, as he had a difficult start to the 2018-19 season before playing the best hockey of his career down the stretch. 

Bjorkstrand tallied just three times in his first 30 games on the season, and at one point he found himself as a healthy scratch while battling Anthony Duclair for one spot in the active lineup.  

To head coach John Tortorella, it was an easy problem to fix, one that when addressed allowed Bjorkstrand to take off in the second half of the season -- a simple lack of the consistent work ethic necessary to get to that next level.  

"He's a goal scorer, but a goal scorer also has to do some work, too," Tortorella said in mid-December. "That's the thing. When you see a player who can do it, why can't I ask for that all the time?" 

Sometimes that's an easy thing to forget for a 23-year-old coming off what had appeared to be his arrival season in the NHL, but it is fair to say that once the message was delivered, Bjorkstrand reached a new level around the midway point of the season. 

He bounced around on lines, sometimes playing on the first line and at others floating with players who didn't quite have a home, but as his play improved, he was a key part of the attack. Bjorkstrand had five goals and nine points in February, then caught fire down the stretch, scoring nine goals in the last 10 games.  

The winger was impressive in the last 36 games of the season, posting a 16-5-21 line and a plus-11 rating in those contests. He then added two postseason goals vs. Tampa Bay and finished with a 2-3-5 line in 10 postseason games. 

All that makes him one of the key Blue Jackets on the roster going forward, as he will be counted on to keep upping his offensive production and consistency as he matures.  

"What he did toward the end of the year, the pace he was scoring goals in the last 40 games, do that for the 82 games and we're going places," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "That's what we've always believed was in him. … He was one of the best junior players I've ever seen in my years of scouting, getting over 60 goals in his best year, and winning the championship in Cleveland, scoring all those winning goals in the most important games. 

"Now he's doing it at the NHL level, and he's going to get better and he's going to get stronger." 

Highlight 

Bjorkstrand scored plenty of big goals for the Blue Jackets this year -- that'll happen when you're as hot down the stretch as he was -- but none was bigger than the game-winning goal in Game 4 of the series win vs. Tampa Bay. With Columbus holding a 6-on-5 advantage because of a delayed penalty call, the Jackets held the puck and eventually it squirted free at the front of the net for Bjorkstrand to slam home, giving the Jackets a 4-3 lead in an eventual 7-3 victory. 

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm4: Bjorkstrand cleans up rebound in front

By the Numbers 

20: Bjorkstrand finished with 23 goals, making him one of a franchise-record five players who spent the entire season with the team and topped 20 goals (Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin, Josh Anderson, Pierre-Luc Dubois).  

6: Down the stretch, Bjorkstrand posted a six-game goal streak from March 24-April 2, tallying seven goals in that span. The six-game streak is tied for the third longest in franchise history, one behind the seven-game runs of Atkinson earlier this season and Geoff Sanderson in 2002.  

107: According to NHL data, Bjorkstrand was on the receiving end of 107 hits this season, second-most of any Blue Jacket at 5-on-5 behind Dubois (113), who dishes out his own fair share of punishment. Yet Bjorkstrand has not missed a game because of injury the past two seasons as the skilled forward is able to take a licking and keep on tickin'.  

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