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Bjorkqvist earning rave reviews from Penguins

Pittsburgh has 'high hopes' for forward prospect who will continue developing at Providence College

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Kasper Bjorkqvist can draw eyes without ever stepping on the ice.

The Pittsburgh Penguins hope that bodes well for when he eventually heads onto the rink at PPG Paints Arena.

"We have very high hopes for him," Penguins director of player development Scott Young said. "He's a specimen ... I mean, you guys have seen him in a T-shirt, right? He's ripped."

The 21-year-old right wing from Espoo, Finland, leads a crop of Penguins prospects who have high upside but might not be seen in Pittsburgh for at least a couple of seasons. But after Bjorkqvist was chosen in the second round (No. 61) of the 2016 NHL Draft, he has progressed during two seasons at Providence College, where he will be a captain in 2018-19.

Bjorkqvist was frustrated in 2016-17, when he had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 30 games with Providence. He rebounded the following season by scoring 23 points (16 goals, seven assists) in 40 games.

"I think I had a more fun year this year, for sure," Bjorkqvist said, "especially on the ice."

Still unsatisfied, Bjorkqvist said he would like to improve his skating and play making. As for what the Penguins have suggested, he said they have taken a hands-off approach, allowing Providence to shape how he develops.

"I think I've been really happy that that's been the case because, as far as I feel, it's hard to listen to too many guys telling you [different things]," Bjorkqvist said. "I have three great coaches that talk to the Penguins and they hear feedback from them, and then they will think about what they can help. So directly, [the Providence coaches] are my No. 1 source right now, since they are my head coaches and my assistant coaches."

Penguins trainers and development coaches guided Bjorkqvist during development camp from June 27-29. After the first session, Young praised the 6-foot-1, 198-pound forward's demeanor.

"He's a very disciplined person," Young said. "The leadership that his coaches talk about, that's a huge part of his game. They say that he's the reason they have intense practices or a rebound from a bad game. He goes out in practice and he just sets the tone."

Though Bjorkqvist might not get the chance to play with the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena for some time, Providence played there as part of the Three Rivers Classic: Men's College Hockey Tournament on Dec. 29 and 30, 2017.

After being held without a point in a 6-0 win against Arizona State on Dec. 29, Bjorkqvist scored the game-winning goal at 17:51 of the second period in a 2-1 win against Robert Morris the following night.

"It was awesome," Bjorkqvist said. "To be honest, I think it's the nicest arena I've ever played at. Obviously, I haven't played at all the nicest things, but I've played at the World Championship back in Helsinki at our home rink and some other big arenas. It was a very cool experience."

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