There are certain annual rites of spring in Columbus.
Temperatures warm up. Allergies start acting up. And Oliver Bjorkstrand heats up.
Two years ago, it came during March. As the Blue Jackets raced to a playoff berth with a red-hot finish, Bjorkstrand led the charge, totaling nine goals and two assists for 11 points in the team's last 10 games.
A season ago, the streak came a little earlier. Bjorkstrand had 14 goals and 20 points in his last 17 regular-season games before injury ended his season in late February.
This year, as reliable as the grass going from brown to green, Bjorkstrand again has become more than a point-per-game player. In the last 10 games, the Danish winger has put up five goals and six assists for 11 points, including a pair of three-point games, as the Blue Jackets have clawed back into the playoff race with the stretch run on tap.
So, is it business as usual for The Maestro? Not quite, he said.
"I think I've been a little more consistent this year as far as points," Bjorkstrand said. "If you look early on I might have had a little gap where it was a little bit slower, but overall I think I've been more consistent if we're talking about points. The last few games, it might have ramped up a little bit, but I'd like to hold on to it and keep going. That's what I'm going to try to do."
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Bjorkstrand does have a point (well, a lot of them, as we pointed out earlier). One of the reasons his point streaks stood out in previous seasons is because he had gone through some dry stretches early in the season.
This year, that hasn't quite been the case, as his season totals attest, with Bjorkstrand leading the team with 27 points (a career-high 0.82 points per game) on 11 goals and 16 assists. He's also added a pair of shootout goals, including the winner in Saturday's game in Carolina.
That's the kind of production the Blue Jackets likely hoped for when the 25-year-old signed a five-year extension in January that will kick in next season. That was a signal that Bjorkstrand is one of the true building blocks of the team, something he and the team acknowledged before the campaign.
"He's a good player that we expect to get even better," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said when Bjorkstrand signed. "He's been a valuable player for us in many different situations in the past and we expect him to get to another level yet."
This year, the point production has continued to grow, and that's while Bjorkstrand has struggled to find a home on a line. Head coach John Tortorella has talked recently about his struggles finding a suitable center for both Bjorkstrand and new winger Patrik Laine, whether the two are playing together or on separate lines.
Yet Bjorkstrand, who owns one of the sneakiest and best releases on a wrist shot in the NHL, has continued to produce no matter what position he's been placed in.
"I think most people when they get on a roll, obviously you build confidence," he said. "It's easier to hold on to and build off of it. When it happens, you have to try to run with it and hold on to it. You don't want to lose it, that's for sure.
"I'm trying to move my feet more," he added when asked what he feels is working at the moment. "I always feel like that's where I have to start. Obviously winning battles. With that, I have the puck a little more. Of course the timing comes into that as well, but the key is to feel like you're moving, feel good out there. You'll have the puck more, and most of the time I feel like you build more confidence."
From the past few seasons, Bjorkstrand has matured from high-scoring junior player -- 113 in his last two years with Portland of the WHL -- to someone learning the NHL game to a leader both on and off the ice for the Jackets. That's how it goes for a young player, and now Bjorkstrand thinks even more production can be in the cards the more experience he gains.
"I think I matured over the years," he said. "I've gotten better as a player. I've been able to be more consistent. Just learning the game and all that stuff, I think that's helped me. I feel like I try to get better. Every year, I've taken a few steps here and there. One of them is being more consistent, and I think I'm starting to figure that out a little more."