Former Portland Winterhawks star, Oliver Bjorkstrand is having a breakout season this year leading the Columbus Blue Jackets in points. He’s also one of the team’s alternate captains this season and deservedly so with his on-ice production. Bjorkstrand spent three seasons with the Winterhawks from 2012-2015 setting multiple franchise records. To jog your memory, let’s look back at his statistics during his three Western Hockey League (WHL) seasons in Portland.
During the 2012-13 season, Bjorkstrand collected 31 goals and 32 assists for 63 points in 65 games. That’s nearly a point per game in his first season of major junior hockey. The very next season he absolutely exploded with 50 goals and 59 assists for a whopping 109 points in 69 games. But then in his third and final WHL season, his numbers climb to an even crazier extent. Bjorkstrand picked up 63 goals and 55 assists for 118 points in just 59 games, that’s just not seen on a normal basis, especially in the WHL.
Following his campaign with Portland, Bjorkstrand went on to join the Blue Jackets’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, now the Cleveland Monsters, where he recorded 17 goals and 12 assists for 29 points in 51 regular season games. During the playoffs, the helped the team win the Calder Cup Trophy as the Monsters won the AHL championship. He collected 10 goals and six assists for 16 points in 17 playoff games. He was awarded the Jack A Butterfield Trophy for being the MVP of the playoffs.
Bjorkstrand on his time with Portland
“It’s obviously a time where you know, you grow as a player and you try to develop as much as you can, and my time in Portland was very beneficial for myself,” Bjorkstrand said.
He explained how he competed against the best players in his age group, seeing what skills they had and comparing himself to them, then challenging himself to be as good, if not better than them. Bjorkstrand emphasized how it was the place he developed as a player and that being in a good situation with good coaches and players around him really helped him a lot as well.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that during his time in Portland, he was on the 2013 WHL Championship team that defeated the Edmonton Oil Kings in six games. While Portland ultimately lost to the Nathan MacKinnon led Halifax Mooseheads in the Memorial Cup Final, winning the WHL was a special moment for him. Bjorkstrand touched on winning the WHL and being part of two other teams that made a run to the championship on each side of that season.
“Definitely winning the WHL championship, that was probably the biggest one, I mean being part of the Mem Cup was a great experience as well, you know taking that stuff and being part of a big tournament like that,” Bjorkstrand said.
Time with Monsters and Calder Cup Championship
Bjorkstrand touched on his time with the Monsters, likening it to his time in Portland, calling it a learning experience and talked a little bit about what his time was like in Cleveland.
“You know, it was, that was a learning experience for me as well, how to go about it being a pro and taking that next step and obviously, ultimately trying to you know, get better as a player and make my way towards the NHL,” Bjorkstrand said.
He said he learned a lot during his time there, but said as a team they were pretty good throughout the season, but never top of the league really.
“Obviously went on a run there, and being part of a winning team and winning a championship at the pro level was a big experience for me and probably a lot of other guys,” Bjorkstrand said. “Just being a part of a team that’s played well and knowing what it takes to come together as a team and win the championship.”
Call-Up and what it meant to him
Bjorkstrand was drafted in the third round, 89th overall in 2013 by the Columbus Blue Jackets and made his NHL debut March 17th, 2016 against the Detroit Red Wings. He explained how it was a dream come true, how it’s obviously the ultimate goal in trying to make it to the NHL.
“Getting the call up was obviously very exciting and knowing that you’re gonna get your first game and start with that process, so yeah really cool experience and that’s something I’ll remember forever,” Bjorkstrand said.
His personal success this season
This season so far with Columbus, Bjorkstrand leads the team in points with six goals and 13 assists for 19 points in 19 games, so roughly a point per game, which shows consistency. Bjorkstrand credits his personal success to his competitiveness and consistency.
“When I play my best, I win my battles, I compete, I’m relentless,” Bjorkstrand said.
When he does those things, he said he’s able to have the puck more on his stick to make plays and make things happen.
“Yeah, so for me it always starts with the fundamentals, just making sure I’m relentless out there, not backing down from a battle and making sure I’m more ready for those 50/50 battles than other players so I come up with the puck,” Bjorkstrand said.
Team success this season
Right now, the Blue Jackets sit fifth in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 12-8-0 good for 24 points on the season. While the team is still young and has struggles here and there, they’ve done quite well this season overall, which Bjorkstrand attributes to good on-ice chemistry. He’s seen guys like Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov come in, get good ice time on the lineup, play well and make the right plays consistently. He said it’s pretty incredible to see because he knows from when he was young like that, it was hard at times to understand how to play, but that their young guys deserve a lot of credit. With Bjorkstrand, it was clear that one of the main themes was consistency and just good team play.
“I think it’s just a good team effort, I think throughout the year now, early on, you know, I think we’ve been pretty good at being consistent in our games, and winning as a team” Bjorkstrand said.
Bjorkstrand feels that there are many games where various guys are pitching in during moments where they need to tie it or get ahead. He credits their success to the whole team and how well they play as four lines and just working together. While they have a young inexperienced team, he said they’re all really good players they’ve seen throughout the season so far.
“It just shows that you know, we have something that can really build on and just get better and better over the years,” Bjorkstrand said.
The Fifth Line
The Blue Jackets fan base is also known as The Fifth Line and it doesn’t take much whether a look on social media such as Twitter or attending a game or two, to see how passionate they are. Bjorkstrand said they’re just good and show up to every game ready to cheer them on. He touched on the playoff victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning a few years ago and how that really helped. He touched on having a decent team in a positive city, how they were creating having a good start to the season and want to hold on to that when maybe people thought they’d be at the bottom.
“At this point at least, I think you know, I just think there’s a lot of excitement and you can feel it in the arena,” Bjorkstrand said.
It’s clear that despite this team being young and inexperienced, there’s something special brewing at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The players can feel it and so can The Fifth Line, who he said is definitely doing their job while they’re giving it their everything out there on the ice.