2015 Prospect Tournaments: Bjorkstrand leads Blue Jackets to second straight Traverse City championship

By Sean Shapiro
Oliver Bjorkstrand - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Columbus Blue Jackets forward prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand wrapped up his WHL career in 2014-15 with a WHL scoring title, posting 63 goals and 118 points in 59 games (courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The cupboard is well stocked for Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

The Blue Jackets have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL, and a winning culture is already starting to take hold amongst those players.

On Tuesday, Columbus won it’s second straight championship at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings.

Columbus ousted Detroit, 5-2, in the championship game, completing a dominant tournament that featured an offense that pumped in 18 goals in four games.

And most of that offensive spark came from the top line of Kerby Rychel, T.J. Tynan, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who combined for eight goals and 20 points in the tournament.

“It’s a fun line,” Bjorkstrand said. “We really work well together.”

Bjorkstrand led the entire tournament with eight points (four goals, four assists), and has developed as one of the gems in the Blue Jackets’ treasure trove of prospects.

The Dane was the Blue Jackets third-round pick, 89th overall, in the 2013 NHL Draft after a strong first season with the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL.

After getting drafted, Bjorkstrand turned into one of the WHL’s best players over the next two seasons.

Bjorkstrand scored 109 points during the 2013-14 season, then won WHL Player of the Year honors after scoring 118 points in 59 games during the 2014-15 campaign.

“It was a good year for me,” he said. “I felt like I got a lot better as the year went on. I was happy about my game by the end of the year.”

Now, he wants to turn his junior hockey scoring prowess into success at the professional level.

“It’s a new season,” he said. “So I’m putting everything behind me. Right now my focus is making the team out of camp.”

While he’d love to make the Blue Jackets out of camp, Bjorkstrand will likely start the season with the Lake Erie Monsters in the American Hockey League.

“It is a big jump, even to the AHL,” Bjorkstrand said. “Junior is junior, but now I’ll be playing against men. The players are better, and the goalies are much better. There aren’t as many mistakes, it’s another level. But, I feel like I can take it.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Bjorkstrand has been one of the younger players on the ice. He made his professional debut as a 15-year-old in Denmark with the Herning Blue Foxes.

“It’s not the best league in the world, but it was a good introduction to pro hockey,” he said. “No matter the skill level, whenever you’re playing with men and not kids your own age, it forces you to get better.”

And no matter where he starts this season, Bjorkstrand will be a fun player to watch.

He relies on his speed to get around defenders, and has shifty hands. He’s also not intimidated in his own zone, and likes to cause havoc on the forecheck.

A lot of that goes back to the teachings from his father, who is a coach in Denmark.

Bjorkstrand ’s father, Todd, is an American who was born and raised in Minnesota and played college hockey at Maine. He then moved to Denmark where he played professionally and later made the transition to coaching.

“I think he enjoys it,” Bjorkstrand said. “He pretty much watches every game I play and tries to give me advice … he helps me out and wants the best for me. I think he’s having more fun with it than anyone else.”

With all respect to Bjorkstrand, that’s debatable.

Because, as the Blue Jackets prospects celebrated a tournament championship on Tuesday, many of the Columbus executives were enjoying the moment and taking a glimpse into the future.

Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter via @SeanShapiro