With just 17 games left in the regular season, it's officially crunch time for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Monday's trade deadline came and went without a major overhaul via trade or from internal reinforcements from one of their laundry list of injured players. Injured players, I'll add, at seemingly the most critical positions. I could go on, but you're familiar with the subject, and the point is that for this team to continue to fight for a playoff spot, there is a borderline unreasonable amount of pressure placed on the club's forwards to find a way to somehow outscore their opponents while players like Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, Alexandre Texier, Alexander Wennberg, etc. are on the sideline.
Enter Emil Bemstrom, a 20-year old rookie who came into this season with somewhat lofty expectations. While it's unfair to suggest he's failed to meet those expectations, his three goals in 28 games before the calendar switched to 2020 wasn't exactly notable. But with so many players missing from the lineup, Bemstrom has stepped up in a big way in recent days, scoring in each of the past three games and giving the Blue Jackets some much-needed offense.
What's changed for Bemstrom in the past three games? After all, it's not like he's been playing with NHL veterans or offensive wizards. Per LeftWingLock, his most common (even-strength) linemates over the past three games have been Calvin Thurkauf, Kevin Stenlund, Eric Robinson, and Devin Shore. Three of those guys started the year in the AHL. Shore, a solidified NHL player, is realistically a bottom-six option on a competing team. Is his recent success do to an uptick in ice time? A quick scan suggests no. Over his 51 games this season, the Swedish winger has averaged 11:51. In the past three games, he's averaged 11:20.
So it's not a new opportunity with better linemates, and it's not more ice time. More than likely, it's just his shooting percentage regressing (progressing?) to the mean. According to NaturalStatTrick, Bemstrom has taken 85 shots this season (1.67 shots per game) in all situations. His seven shots in the past three games (small sample size alert) equates to 2.33 shots/game (all situations), so no real difference there, either.
The first of the three recent goals is the vintage Bemstrom we were expecting a year after he torched the SHL. A power play assassin, he showed off his release with this goal against Nashville on Saturday night.
His other two goals were a bit greasier, and I think it shows the strides Bemstrom has taken this year. It's not that he was labeled as a perimeter player, but when you're a Swedish sniper who's calling card is a one-timer on the power play, it would be easy to expect him to have trouble going to the hard places in the NHL, particularly as a 20-year old rookie.
Don't look now, but Bemstrom, who has 8-10-18 this season, is tied for sixth among rookie forwards in goals. And as he's being rewarded for going to the net, his confidence should continue to grow, which should, in turn, allow him to continue to progress.
The next few videos don't result in goals, but they show Bemstrom playing the right way. On the first video, watch him get lost in coverage. Shore makes a great pass to find him alone, and I'd bet that Bemstrom would score on a high percentage of similar plays.
The second video shows a combination of the high-end skill he has (that seam pass) and his willingness to engage physically (behind the net work). Again, this can only be seen as a positive.
Bemstrom's hot streak couldn't come at a more opportune time. For him personally, it will give him an opportunity to play higher in the lineup both this season and in the future. And for the team, with so many players sidelined, it's a real blessing to find goals from a rookie who started the year slower than hoped.