BOSTON - For the third straight September, Anders Bjork has arrived for training camp with opportunity staring him right in the face. As a winger with a combination of elite skill and blazing speed, he fits the mold as the perfect missing piece to Boston's top-six puzzle.
And because of those assets, the Notre Dame product has earned his way on to the Opening Night roster each of the past two seasons with the hopes that he would emerge as a dependable scorer alongside Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci.
Unfortunately, Bjork's first two professional campaigns have both ended prematurely, with shoulder troubles derailing his efforts to become a staple in Bruce Cassidy's lineup.
But this fall - some eight months removed from a second major surgery on his left shoulder - Bjork is aiming to make the third time a charm.
"I'm healthier earlier, which is nice," said Bjork, who was a full participant on Thursday morning when Rookie Camp opened with a spirited hour-long practice at Warrior Ice Arena. "You don't really know where you're at until you start playing games a bit. [I'm going to try] to do all I can to be as ready as possible."
It's been a long road back for the 23-year-old who has been medically cleared since July following the second procedure on his left shoulder in less than a year. After starting last season with the big club - he put up three points (goal, two assists) in 20 games - Bjork was assigned to Providence in late November to shore up his game.
He was playing well - posting 10 points in 13 games - upon his arrival to the P-Bruins, before taking a heavy thump during a game against Hershey on Dec. 30 that ended his season.
"I'm excited to be back here," said Bjork. "It was about a six-month recovery, then into rehab…I'm used to that. I'm feeling good now. I think I've had a lot of time to get ready for this season. Trying to prepare both physically and mentally."
And it may be that mental hurdle that Bjork will have to focus most on clearing.
It was a similar hit that cut short Bjork's promising rookie season in 2017-18. The 2014 fifth-round pick had notched 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 30 games - playing mostly with Bergeron or Krejci - before Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin delivered a crushing open-ice hit to Bjork's left shoulder in January 2018.
"That's part of being a pro hockey player is learning how to prepare the right way and do all you can to avoid injury," said Bjork. "That's something that I've learned the hard way…that is something that I'm focused on this season because I'd definitely like to know what I can do with a full season. Every player wants to play every game for whatever team they're on."
Video: Bjork speaks following Day 1 of Bruins Rookie Camp
During both of his lengthy rehabs, Bjork tried to use the downtime as a positive and made it a point to try to study up on the areas of his game that he felt were lacking.
"It's tough to watch hockey games, but that's something that you can do to learn and see other players and hopefully incorporate that into your game when you become healthy," said Bjork. "You definitely want to keep improving because we're fortunate enough to play this game and we have to make our opportunities count no matter what challenges we face."
As such, Bjork is trying to view this training camp as somewhat of a refresh. After being limited during last year's camp, the 6-foot, 190-pound left shot is grateful to be entering the season with a clean bill of health.
"I was going into [last year's] camp unsure…I hadn't really been able to skate much before camp. They didn't want to rush me into stuff," said Bjork. "I think it's good mentally to be not feeling rushed or anything like that. I'm trying to be patient with it and keep working on improving my game and be the best player I can."
The first step in getting his game back on track will be this weekend's Prospects Challenge, which begins Friday afternoon in Buffalo. With 50 NHL games already under his belt, Bjork enters the four-team exhibition tournament with a leg up on his fellow youngsters.
"I think for him, this is a good opportunity for him to get some game play," said Bruins Player Development Coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner. "It's been a long time since he's played. Him and I talked quite a bit this summer about that, that this was a good opportunity for him to do that. We expect him to be a good player this weekend.
"He should be. He should be noticeable. But it's more about getting his timing down, get in some game action…it will be good for him, that next step in his process of getting game ready."
And when Bjork returns to Boston next week for the opening of main camp, that opportunity will - once again - be waiting for him.
"It's definitely exciting," said Bjork. "I think all the young guys are excited about that. As we've seen here, young guys can make the roster and make an impact, which is pretty cool…I think that's something that we keep in the back of our minds."