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CBJ Q&A: Checking in with Oliver Bjorkstrand

Winger in midst of high-scoring season has been rehabbing in Columbus

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

There's hot, there's on fire, and there's what Oliver Bjorkstrand was this year for the Blue Jackets. 

Despite having to deal with a pair of injuries -- first an rib/oblique injury that cost him a month from mid-December to mid-January, then a broken and sprained left ankle in February that knocked him out long term -- Bjorkstrand's production wasn't stopped, as the Danish winger scored 14 goals and added six assists in his last 17 games played. 

That allowed him to go into the coronavirus pause as the team's leader with 21 tallies on the year despite playing in just 49 games, which put him on pace for a 35-goal season had he played all 82 games.  

Bjorkstrand continues to rehab and has stayed in Columbus, where he said he's working on his cooking and keeping himself busy. He talked to last week about his rehab, how he felt his season went and what it was like to play junior hockey with Seth Jones. 

I don't want to say you're one of the lucky ones considering you're coming off an injury, but you do get to go to the rink every day and get your rehab in. What has day-to-day life been like for you as you're working to get back to full health? 

You said it, it is kind of nice given the situation that I have something to do and have a routine. In the mornings I have to go into the rink and do some rehab stuff and make sure that my ankle gets back to 100 percent and get it healed, so I'm able to go in in the mornings to do rehab. Obviously we have guidelines as far as keeping things safe in there and try to not expose ourselves to the virus and so on, but it's nice having a routine and it gives me something to do, which I'm sure a lot of people are struggling with as far as finding things to do right now. 

So where (were you last week when we talked) with the progress on the rehab? Have you been able to begin skating? 

I think I'm eight weeks after surgery now, so it's kind of in the timeframe where I should be almost back to normal. I just got on the ice last Friday (April 24) and got to feel the ice a little bit and skate a little bit. I've been on the ice two times after that, including today, so I'm starting the process of skating. I still have a little bit of a ways to go as far as making it to 100 percent and feeling fully comfortable on my ankle and the different movements it takes you to play hockey, but I'm getting close. Things are going well. Given the situation, we're not really rushed to get me playing since we still have plenty of time. 

The coaching staff has created some quizzes and other ways to keep you guys engaged right now. Obviously you're going through the physical rehab, but you have to stay mentally in the game as well. Is it nice that the coaches have come up with some things to keep you going, especially since they've added some competitive aspects to it? 

Yeah, when they put the competitive part in there (players who score well and respond quickly will earn rewards in training camp), it definitely got you a little motivated as far as doing it. But no, it's fun. Some of the questions and answers are kind of funny and so on, but I think it's good. It's a really different situation that we're in, so we don't know what is going to happen. They are obviously trying to make it realistic for us to finish the season in some kind of way. All we can do is try to stay ready for whatever is going to happen, and if it's playing hockey, you have to stay in it somehow mentally and physically. The mental part is a big thing and not getting your mind too far away from it. I think it's good. It keeps us engaged and together as a team and we have some mental things to do that are hockey related. 

Did you win last week or have you gotten one of the rewards to this point? 

I won last week. I buckled down last week, and I think I was up there in one of the first (quizzes) and got some points, so that's good. The time before that, I was a little behind there. It's a small thing, but it's trying to keep us engaged. If we end up being able to come back and play, it's important to have the right mind-set and be engaged and just be ready. That's always the hard part, especially in a situation that none of us have ever been in. 

Video: WPG@CBJ: Bjorkstrand sends puck top shelf for lead

You were so hot in the last games you played -- it seems like you score a goal in every replay shown on Fox Sports Ohio -- it looked like you were consistently reaching a new level. Did you feel like you were getting to a point where your game was really blossoming? 

Yeah, I was definitely feeling good. A lot of times that goes hand in hand that when you're feeling good on the ice, naturally when you're out there your confidence seems better and when you shoot the puck it comes off your stick better and comes off with more confidence. I thought I had a good start to the season this year, which is something I always wanted to be a little bit better about. I thought it was good this year, I just didn't really get the goals or the points to match up with that so it's still something I need to work on there. But obviously I got it going and started scoring those goals, and that's something I'd like to hold on to and try to start that way if we play the rest of the season or the start of next season. 

There was talk coming into the season about how important it was going to be for you to have a good year in the goal-scoring department and how you'd have a chance to take a bigger role given the offseason departures. Did you have a real focus coming into the season to make an impact and show the player you could be? 

Yeah, when you lose a guy like (Artemi) Panarin, it's definitely something where the guys on the team have to step up and take that upon themselves. Going into the season, there was an opportunity to try to get some of those minutes and try to help the team with some of the points he created for us. I think for anybody, you had to have the mind-set of a good player left and that is what it is, but somebody else has to step up. I'm sure every guy goes into the season trying to grab that ice time, and that was my mind-set. 

From the team aspect, one of the things John Tortorella has talked about quite a bit was belief, just what it was like to see a team go through so much and still come together and believe you were going to win games. Was there a lesson to be learned there, and what was that like to be a part of? 

I think it's good. I think it proves that if a team first of all has the belief and comes together as a group and there is buy in and they play within their roles and so on and they work their asses off, they can win a lot of games. When we started winning games -- I was out for a little bit of that time too, but I was watching, I was part of it, and you could just see the mentality of guys, how hard they were working. We were kind of playing how we did against Tampa last year and because of that we were just able to win those games. At the same time, Korpi played well, Elvis played well, I thought our defense played well, but the forwards were reloading, we were doing all the right things and we were able to win close games. Some games we scored some goals, too, but the main thing with that was belief and a lot of good things came from that. 

One last thing I wanted to ask you. Recently I saw some highlights on Twitter of you playing junior hockey in Portland with Seth Jones and Paul Bittner. What's it like to be back together in the same organization with those guys, especially Seth, and is it cool to keep those bonds going and think about what those days were like? 

I always think when you're playing against guys you played with in juniors, the guys who made it, I think it's kind of fun because when you're in juniors, obviously your goal is to make it to the NHL. That's the ultimate goal, so that's fun seeing your teammates from when you were a little bit younger make it to the NHL. Obviously I played with Seth my first year in Portland when he was there and we won the (WHL) championship that year, which was a really cool experience. When he got traded to Columbus, I was excited about the possibility that we could play on the same team again, then you see him and it's fun to play with him again. It's cool to see your old teammates when you end up meeting each other at the next level. It's a unique experience. 

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