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Bjorkqvist grows into North American game

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens' annual development camp is a chance for the organization to gather it's prospects from throughout the world and instill in them professional habits.

Those professional habits can be anything from how the players train, prepare off the ice, handle themselves with media or in the community.

Many of the prospects have benefited greatly and have implemented those qualities in their respective lives.

Take Kasper Bjorkqvist for example.

The 20-year-old Finnish forward has dedicated himself to becoming a pro with his work ethic and commitment to training. And it shows.

"We have very high hopes for him. He's a specimen," said Pens director of player development Scott Young last week. "You guys (the media) have seen him in a t-shirt, right? He's ripped. He's a very disciplined person."

Bjorkqvist, the team's second-round pick (61st overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft, stands at 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds. He'll be entering his junior season of college hockey with Providence, and will continue to work on his game.

"You need to develop all your skills, especially skating. Hockey right now is a hard skating game, being able to play fast," Bjorkqvist said.

The biggest adjustment the Espoo, Finland native has had to make since coming to North American in 2016 - other than adjust to a new culture - was adapting to the different surface size of the rink.

"I think it comes with getting more comfortable with the game here and starting to make more plays," said Bjorkqvist, who had 16 goals and 23 points in 2017-18 with the Friars. "I think that's the next big step, getting more comfortable and getting better at that, making plays, staying with the puck, that kind of stuff."

Bjorkqvist, who did not participate in on-ice sessions at development due to an injury, helped the Friars earn a trip to the Hockey East championship before falling, 2-0, to No. 18 Boston University. The club followed that up with a victory against Clarkson in the NCAA tournament before bowing out to Notre Dame.

"As a team we grew a lot," Bjorkqvist said. "We won the semifinal in Hockey East and then the first game of the tournament. That showed how we were as a team. Individually, I think I had a more fun year this year, especially on the ice. That was good."

More so than just a player, Bjorkqvist grew into one of the team's leaders during the run and will expand on that role in 2018-19.

"The leadership that his coaches talk about, that's a huge part of his game," Young said. "They say he's the reason they have intense weeks at practice or rebound from a bad game, and he goes out in practice and sets the tone. He's going to be a captain on that team this year and this is going to be a big year for him."

Bjorkqvist had a glimpse of his future during last season. Providence took part in the Three Rivers Classic tournament, which took place at Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena in late December.

"It was a very cool experience. It's the nicest rink I've ever been to," he said. "It was cold, that's for sure. I'm used to that. I liked that."

Perhaps, Bjorkqvist will be skating in that cold rink one day. Until then, his focus is only on next year.

"I want to play here at some point," he said. "I've always been a one-day-at-a-time kind of guy.

"I'm going back to school when school starts and I'll try to work hard everyday."

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