Red-Hot Oliver Bjorkstrand Should Be Playing Far More Minutes Than He's Currently Getting

By Dan Dukart on April 4, 2019 at 1:23 pm
Oliver Bjorkstrand chips the puck past defenseman Ryan Pulock of the New York Islanders

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

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Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand is still on fire.

We wrote about his scoring streak nearly a week ago, and since then, he's gone on to score in every game since. To date, Bjorkstrand has scored in six straight games, having scored seven goals during the streak, and has lit the lamp eight times in his past eight games.

But as miraculous as his streak is, it is equally miraculous that he's been able to do so with such little ice time. In the past six games, Bjorkstrand is averaging just 13:30 TOI. Even more incredibly, that's a full minute more than his total season average, where he's averaged just 12:19 on ice, by far the lowest of his career. 

This isn't the first time I've lamented Bjorkstrand's ice time. My argument isn't that he's the best player on the ice - he's not. But if there are four lines, and 60 minutes in a game, I'd venture to say that Bjorkstrand deserves at least 1/4 of the ice time. John Tortorella vehemently disagrees, which has been obvious in his usage throughout the Dane's career.

But the fact that Bjorkstrand is dead last on the team in average ice time over the past six games, you know, in which he has seven goals, is maddening (note: Markus Hannikainen played one game and played 11:22).

Time On Ice In Last Six Games (All Strengths)
TOI Rank Player GP Average TOI Goals Points
1 Artemi Panarin 6 17:58 2 8
2 Cam Atkinson 6 17:14 3 5
3 Matt Duchene 6 16:24 1 6
4 Josh Anderson 6 15:37 3 5
5 Nick Foligno 5 15:08 1 3
6 Alexander Wennberg 6 14:31 0 2
7 Pierre-Luc Dubois 6 14:13 2 3
8 Brandon Dubinsky 6 14:03 1 1
9 Riley Nash 6 13:56 1 1
10 Boone Jenner 6 13:48 1 3
11 Ryan Dzingel 6 13:43 2 4
12 Oliver Bjorkstrand 6 13:30 7 7

I understand the difficulties of managing a bench. As of this writing, the Blue Jackets feel more comfortable with their four lines than perhaps any point in the history of their franchise. The top line of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Cam Atkinson deserves a ton of ice time, especially in offensive situations. The second line of Ryan Dzingel, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Josh Anderson has been solid, and all three players have made significant impact in recent games. And the fourth line of Brandon Dubinsky, Riley Nash, and Nick Foligno has stabilized the club, and has given Tortorella a line that he feels very comfortable playing in defensive situations, or when the team needs a spark.

That leaves the third line, with Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, and Bjorkstrand. The line has been productive, obviously. But Bjorkstrand's lack of defensive acumen may give Tortorella some pause when deciding between playing that line and, say, the second or fourth line.  But Bkorkstrand, particularly, deserves more ice. According to NaturalStatTrick, the winger is in the midst of his highest shots/60 (10.32) and goals/60 (1.43) in his career (all strengths). While most coaches would see this and play that player more, Tortorella has played him less.

Prior to a disappointing loss to the Boston Bruins, the Blue Jackets had won five straight games. It's hard to argue with that type of success, and it's certainly a challenging spot for a coach, who has more firepower than he's certainly accustomed to in his time in Columbus.

But as the Blue Jackets play in what could be their final two games of their season, I'd sure feel better about the chances of the Blue Jackets scoring a goal with their hottest player on the ice. The numbers are there to support that.

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