It’s impossible to predict just exactly how good 20-year-old Anders Bjork is going to be with the Bruins next season.
He’s a very different player than the much-hyped Jimmy Vesey as a smaller, faster winger with a tiny bit of grit built into his game, and that might play to his advantage at the NHL level. Vesey struggled at times while making the jump from NCAA straight to the NHL, and finished with 16 goals and 27 points along with a minus-13 rating in 80 games for the Rangers. But the Notre Dame standout will need to prove, just as Bruins prospects Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did, that minimal or zero training time in the AHL is required to hack it in the National Hockey League.
“I was very fortunate to get drafted by the Bruins and it’s pretty cool that I’ve done well enough to earn a contract with such a prestigious organization. So, it’s one thing to sign an NHL contract, but it’s another to sign it with an organization like the Boston Bruins that has so much history and is so prestigious,” said Bjork, the former fifth round pick after signing earlier this week. “Yeah, I’m very excited. I know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but I think it’s a challenge that I’m ready to face and think I can handle.
“Obviously, there’s a ton of good prospects and young players in the organization so it’s going to be tough to earn a spot on the Bruins, in Boston. I think I know that I’m going to be training really hard. I plan to work a lot on my strength and stuff like that and just anything I can do to give myself a better shot at making the team, I think I’m going to do. It’s going to take a lot of effort. But, it’s a great opportunity. I’m excited about that and that’s definitely going to drive me this summer.”
The 21 goals and 52 points and level of dominance at Notre Dame for the 6-foot, 180-pound Bjork are good indicators he could be ready right away, but then again he looked fairly average in his five game stint for Team USA at the World Championships compared to Frank Vatrano starring for a bare bones American roster just a year prior.
So let’s just say hypothetically that Bjork shows enough in training camp to win a top-6 job with the Bruins out of training camp, and starts the year riding shotgun on the left side with David Krejci and David Pastrnak on Boston’s second line. It’s not the traditional power forward bookends that Krejci has thrived with in the past during the Cup years with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, but the Czech center is the kind of smart passer that can throw passes into space to utilize the speed of players like Pastrnak and Bjork on either side.
Krejci and Pastrnak combined for 57 goals last season, so they’re going to command a ton of attention from defenses in the kind of setup that could Bjork lots of room to operate, create and find his offensive effectiveness at the NHL level. That goes doubly so if a 31-year-old Krejci can regain a little more speed and explosiveness one year removed from his hip surgery, and after a summer of health and full workouts.
If Bjork can be a 15-20 goal player that exerts pressure on opponents with his skating speed and ability to finish, that in turn will give the Bruins a pair of heavily armed and dangerous forward lines at the top of their roster. It’s something the Bruins didn’t have last season when there were stretches when a jam-packed trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak were providing all of the offense for the B Black and Gold, and therefore easier to stop when all opponents needed to do was focus on shutting them down.
Ideally the addition of Bjork, or perhaps Jake DeBrusk or even AHL playoff standout Danton Heinen if they beat out the Notre Dame star in a training camp battle that could be interesting to watch, will bring the kind of balance Boston hasn’t enjoyed over the last couple of seasons. That in turn would allow players like Vatrano and David Backes to slot in where they’re better-served as third line performers, and could truly make Boston a much more consistently dangerous offensive group.
Here’s what the Bruins lines could look like in September:
On paper it’s exciting and could really become a Bruins team ready to make a big jump next season with players like Bjork up front and 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy on the back end, but both youngsters will also need some time to develop, make mistakes and round out their games while learning on the NHL job. It will be an environment conducive to that with Bruce Cassidy behind the Boston bench and with a GM like Don Sweeney that cut his NHL executive teeth in the draft/development game that’s so important these days at the NHL level.
But getting back to the Vesey example from the very beginning, let’s not put too much pressure on Bjork to be a world-beating winger right out of the starting gate at the NHL level. It may take a couple of years for a young player to figure out how his skills fit best at the next level, and doing that amid expectations of production can be very challenging.
The Bruins are a couple of years away, if all goes right, from potentially developing back into Stanley Cup contenders, and next season should be about prospect development and taking another progressive step team-wise after pushing back into the postseason. Anything else will be gravy whether it’s Bjork, DeBrusk, Senyshyn, McAvoy or any other of the myriad Bruins prospects poised to take Boston places a couple of years down the line with an organization flush with young talent.