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Bemstrom eyes role with Blue Jackets for upcoming campaign

After leading Sweden's top league in goals, prospect sees opportunity with Columbus

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

When asked if he plans to spend his 2019-20 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Emil Bemstrom had a quick answer. 

"Yeah, that's my goal," said Bemstrom, a Swedish forward who turned 20 years old June 1. 

When asked if he thinks that's an attainable goal, he gave an even quicker reply. 

"Yes," he said. 

That would seem to put the highly regarded prospect in alignment with his general manager, Jarmo Kekalainen, who said at the conclusion of the Jackets' season in May that he could see the sniper who led Sweden's top league in scoring wearing Union Blue come October. 

"He's going to get a great opportunity here to not only play but play a big role and be a goal scorer on this level that he was in the Swedish League," Kekalainen said of a player who signed a three-year entry-level contract in May

In fact, the general manager has long been excited about the potential of Bemstrom, who at 19 years old a season ago led the SHL in the regular season with 23 goals in 47 games to earn league rookie of the year honors. Also a member of Sweden's World Juniors team who already has debuted with the full national team as well, Bemstrom added 12 assists for 35 points, then had a 5-5-10 line in 19 postseason games for a Djurgårdens IF team that made it all the way to the SHL final.  

At the trade deadline, Kekalainen referred to Bemstrom as a player many teams inquired about but one he had no interest in trading, in part because of his historic season in the SHL. Names like Forsberg, Sedin, Pettersson and Naslund come up when looking at the list of players to score so impressively at Bemstrom's age in Sweden. 

"He's done some significant things," Kekalainen said. "No one talks about him, but every time I talk to a GM, that's the guy they ask about, or they ask about (2018 first-round pick) Liam Foudy, or they as about Alexandre Texier, and it's a no every time. It's a nonstarter." 

The impacts of the other two players have already been felt. Texier, a 2017 second-round pick out of France, came over to North America after spending most of this season in Finland and scored two goals in the Blue Jackets' opening-round Stanley Cup Playoffs win over Tampa Bay. Foudy also went to the AHL level at the end of the year after his season in London concluded, then had two goals in the clinching Game 4 win as the Monsters beat Syracuse in the first round of the Calder Cup postseason. 

Bemstrom is yet to play a pro game in North America but has the talent to make a similar immediate impact. His greatest strength is his shot, as the 2017 fourth-round pick's highlights often feature him often unleashing a wickedly hard and accurate shot from the left side that proved almost impossible for goalies to handle. 

"It's been a really good season for me," Bemstrom said after a workout Tuesday at Nationwide Arena, as he and other prospects are getting in some summer weightlifting with under the Jackets' watch. "I got to play a lot of good minutes there in Sweden and I had a big role on the power play there, and they believed in me.  

"I wouldn't think about (leading the league in goals) before the season, but it happened, so I know anything can happen if I play my game and have the right guys behind me." 

Bemstrom said he'll continue trying to improve all aspects of his game this offseason, but like with many young players, building strength and working to improve his defensive capabilities will be key focus points. 

"It's a lot to work on," he said. "I'm still young and have a lot of things to work on -- probably the defensive play and stuff like that. I know I have the offensive skills to play in this league, but it's more the all-around play." 

The Blue Jackets stayed in close touch with Bemstrom throughout last season, as European development coach Jarko Ruutu was a constant presence at his games. The hope is at age 20, Bemstrom will instead be under the watch of Blue Jackets coaches as he begins his career in Columbus. 

And if that's the case, his most recent trip to North America will help in that regard, as he's spending his time these days working out with his fellow prospects then checking out what Columbus has to offer.  

"We always practice in the mornings so me and Tex, he's showing me the city," Bemstrom said. "It's a nice city. He's shown me some good restaurants here, so it's good." 

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