Oliver Bjorkstrand is off to a torrid start in the early goings of the 2021-22 season, posting nine points in six games.
That metric alone puts him in elite company. As it stands today, Bjorkstrand is tied for seventh in the NHL in points, behind a top-six of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Steven Stamkos, Kyle Connor, Leon Draisaitl, Alex Ovechkin, and Connor McDavid. He has scored in bunches, totaling all nine of his points in just three games. Unsurprisingly, the Blue Jackets are 3-0-0 when he's tallied a point (or more), and 1-2-0 when he's failed to get on the scoresheet.
Obviously, that's a small sample size. But it does speak to the idea that Bjorkstrand, who played in the shadow of Artemi Panarin and more recently (at least from a usage standpoint) Cam Atkinson, has announced himself as maybe the key skater on this roster. It's not just his point totals that are up, either. He's playing 18:04 per night, a career-high, and more than any Columbus forward other than the Swiss Army knife that is Boone Jenner.
He's doing all of this playing while playing with a rotating cast of characters. On Monday night's win, Bjorkstrand was in his usual second-line role, but he was alongside Jack Roslovic and Gregory Hofmann, who was promoted in place of Alexandre Texier from the fourth line. Hofmann scored his first career NHL goal in the game, and Bjorkstrand scored the game's opening goal off a dish from Roslovic.
Bjorkstrand's most obvious asset is the wicked-fast release on his snapshot. He's been fooling NHL goalies since he came into the league in 2015-16, and with an 82-game season in the offing (pending injury), it wouldn't be a surprise for him to reach 30 (or more) goals. But don't let Bjorkstrand's sharpshooting fool you; he's much more than a nice shot.
Since entering the NHL, Bjorkstrand has made significant strides to become a complete player. He learned from the aforementioned Panarin to become a tenacious on-the-puck player. It was his poke-check, in fact, that gave Hofmann the requisite space to bury his first career goal. And he's long been considered an analytics darling on the defensive side of the puck.
Even still, Bjorkstrand could be seen as underappreciated. With the arrival of Patrik Laine, Bjorkstrand has moved to the middle in the 1-3-1 power play formation. His ability to read the play to become a support valve - no matter who has the puck - makes him a valuable player at the position. And his ability to get off a shot, facilitate as a 'bumper', or tip pucks in, as he did on his first goal of the season, make him an ideal candidate for the position.
Over an 82-game season, Bjorkstrand's consistent play should be an asset for a young, inexperienced team. So far, as Bjorkstrand goes, so too go the Blue Jackets.