This Worked: The Blue Jackets Traded Back in the 2013 NHL Draft to Select Oliver Bjorkstrand

By Dan Dukart on August 22, 2017 at 8:31 am
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

For Blue Jackets fans, the 2013 NHL Draft is largely remembered as Jarmo Kekalainen's first draft as GM. The team had three first-round picks, and Alexander Wennberg was considered the crown jewel at No. 14 overall.

After selecting Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano to complete the first round, much of the remainder of the draft was an afterthought. After all, it's difficult for the average fan to be excited about later-round picks, especially after three high-end picks early on.

However, a draft-day trade between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Blue Jackets may eventually be considered the catalyst of the 2013 draft haul for Columbus. The trade saw Columbus move down in the second round from pick No. 44 to No. 50. The kicker for the deal to go through was the Penguins throwing in a third-round pick, No. 89 overall. The Penguins drafted prized goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry at 44. The Jackets took stay-at-home defenseman Dillon Heatherington at 50, who was traded out of the organization at this year's trade deadline for seldom-used forward Lauri Korpikoski. 

The 89th pick saw the Blue Jackets take an undersized Danish sniper named Oliver Bjorkstrand from the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL). As a rookie in the WHL, Bjorkstrand outpaced expectations, posting 31 goals and 63 points in 65 games. The following season, his production exploded with a 50-goal, 109-point campaign, adding 33 points in 21 playoff games. He then followed that up in 2014-15 with a ludicrous 118-point season (with 63 goals) in just 59 games.

Then it was time for Bjorkstrand to make the jump to the professional ranks, and he was named MVP of the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs in 2016, posting 16 points in 17 games, highlighted by the overtime, championship-clinching goal in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena. 

But it's not been all sunshine and rainbows for Bjorkstrand.

Expectations have been high, but in three-plus seasons within the organization, he has yet to play a full season with the Blue Jackets. This past season, he wasn't considered engaged enough to play at the NHL level, and he played himself to the AHL after just three games. When he was finally recalled, he looked every bit the player Columbus has come to expect, notching six goals and 13 points in 26 games. Extrapolated over a full season, this amounts to a 40+ point season and 19 goals, but that would assume his ice time stays the same, which, according to some advanced hockey analytics, suggest it should increase.

From Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic, who suggests Bjorkstrand is primed to have a breakout season:

At 5-on-5, his points-per-60 is monstrous. He’s only played 477 minutes in the past two seasons, but among players who have played as much, his 2.64 points-per-60 in that time ranks third behind Jake Guentzel (another small sample size wonder) and Connor McDavid. He’s basically tied with Sidney Crosby and the next best for the Jackets is Artemi Panarin at 32nd.

While it's easy to put pen to paper and write about how good a player could or should be, the truth is, Bjorkstrand still has a lot to prove. His sample size is small because he's not been able to put together a full NHL season. But the skill, creativity, and potential is tantalizing.

With the departures of Sam Gagner, Scott Hartnell, Brandon Saad and William Karlsson, a roster spot is all but guaranteed for the 22-year old Bjorkstrand. From here, the onus will be on the player to take the puck and run. 

[H/T Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic]