Oliver Bjorkstrand's summer wasn't all that busy, but he did take one trip that he'll remember forever.
After mostly hanging out around Columbus this offseason, the Blue Jackets winger visited Oslo, Norway, in late August to skate with his native country in a qualifying event for the 2022 Winter Olympics. And it was mission accomplished for the Herning, Denmark, native and his teammates, as Bjorkstrand chipped in three goals and two assists in three games, all wins for Denmark as the country moved on to the Olympics for the first time in its history.
It was a memorable weekend, and that Bjorkstrand did his part is no surprise given his development over the past few seasons with the Blue Jackets. The 26-year-old has become one of the most consistent and underrated players in the NHL, posting 23 and 21 goals, respectively, in the previous two seasons before finishing the shortened 2021 season with a 18-26-44 line that represented career highs in assists and points.
Video: CBJ@FLA: Bjorkstrand buries long wrist shot far side
Now going into his seventh NHL season, Bjorkstrand -- who signed a five-year extension with the Blue Jackets in January that kicks in this season -- finds himself as one of the longest-tenured Blue Jackets. And with training camp starting in two weeks, we caught up Bjorkstrand to get his thoughts on the upcoming season as well as his Olympics accomplishment.
The following conversation was edited slightly for brevity and context.
BlueJackets.com: Denmark had never qualified for the Olympics, so to be part of that had to be awesome. What was the experience like?
Oliver Bjorkstrand: "It was great, obviously. We had never qualified before and we're always looking to take that next step in the hockey world, and our next step was making the Olympics. Every four years in the past, it's been a little bit disappointing when we lost a tournament. We had teams that probably on paper should have been able to win them and ended up disappointed a little bit. This year we were in the same position. We had a team that looked the best on paper and expectations were we were going to win it, but it's always a tough tournament and you don't always know what to expect. The fact we won it this time was a huge relief, and I think everybody on the team is super pumped about getting an opportunity in the Olympics now. It was a big day for Danish hockey, and we're all really proud."
What was the celebration like, considering this accomplishment had been so many years in the making?
"It was awesome. We just spent the night at the hotel having fun as a team and just enjoying the moment. It was a fun celebration. Things were a little bit on lockdown still in Norway, so it's not like we went out or anything with traveling back and COVID and all that, but we had a really good time as a team together at the hotel, and we definitely celebrated, so that's always fun. It means a lot for us as individuals and also for hockey in Denmark. It's great we were able to do it this time."
Have you heard from people back in Denmark about what it means to them?
"A lot of people reached out. You can feel the excitement in Denmark, and it just brings more attention to hockey in Denmark, which is good. We still have a long ways to go as far as spreading hockey in Denmark, but I guess you can compare it to Columbus a little bit. It's come a long way, but it still has room to grow. It's kind of the same where you can compare it to Columbus as far as how the game is growing and how much more it can grow."
Is it hard to believe it's September and we're only a few weeks away from the start of training camp?
"Yeah, summer flies by fast. Now we're finally here. Obviously the last few years have been difficult with everything going on. Speaking for myself, I'm just excited about being back to a normal schedule, and we're pretty much on track to be starting on time with a normal season, just a week or 10 days later than we would normally start, so it's definitely nice. I'm excited about the season and coming together as a team."
Speaking of, you have a bunch of new teammates considering it was a very eventful summer for the team. Are you excited to get everybody together and meet a bunch of the new guys for the first time?
"It's a new look, a lot of new guys coming in. There are still some familiar faces, but it'll be very interesting to see how it goes here in the start. I'm very excited about it. Obviously people talking about us are probably talking about us as a team that's gonna be in the bottom (of the standings). It seems like that's what I'm seeing, but I think we like proving people wrong in Columbus. I'm very pumped for the start of the season and what we can prove."
Obviously so many guys who have been here for so long have left the team over the past year or so, which leaves maybe a little bit of a leadership vacuum. You've been here for a while now. You're a lead-by-example guy, but does that feel like something you can do more of or maybe have to do more of?
"There's definitely roles to be filled there. I think for the guys that maybe haven't been in that role, it's time for guys like them and us to step up and try to be more of a leader. Like you said, I'm probably not the most vocal person, but I like to lead by example on the ice and that's something I'm going to focus on. When you do that, I think it also helps push people, and that's how I like doing things. Obviously I'm hoping that other guys can step up and be the more vocal guys, but I'm definitely looking forward to filling that role and leading by example that way and in practice every day."
You mentioned wanting the chance to prove people wrong as a team. It's the first offseason you've had not coming off a playoff appearance, so that has to be a motivating factor as you go into the year.
"It is, without a doubt. I was fortunate enough to get on a team where we made the playoffs every year, so that's obviously very nice. Not making it this year obviously sucks and you really want to get motivated from it. You want to make sure you find a way back, and it's obviously super hard getting in the playoffs. It won't be easy for us this year, but I think everybody is motivated and wants to prove people wrong. I think we have something that can go out and surprise people and steal a playoff spot. I'm sure every team is saying the same thing, but that has to be your answer. That's our attitude, too. You have to believe in your team and that's what I do, and I hope other guys do that too."
You've signed a long-term deal with the team. Guys like Boone Jenner and Zach Werenski did the same, so you've got some players committed here for the long haul. You look at the draft and think about how good those guys can be in the coming years. Does that really excite you to think about the future here?
"Yeah. You look at our roster, we have a lot of potential. Maybe it takes us a few years for those guys to really get going into the league for us to take that extra step and be a top team in the league, but it's exciting. For me, I just look at this season, we want to go and do our best, and again, our goal should be making the playoffs and going from there. It's very comforting to see there's a lot of young guys coming that will make us even better for the coming seasons and hopefully we can be in a good spot. I'm very excited about that."