BRIGHTON, Mass. — Anders Bjork isn’t exactly your typical hockey player at NHL rookie training camp.
The former Notre Dame standout is 23 years old and has already logged 50 NHL games on his résumé, including stints at right wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Given all of those reasons, it was mildly surprising to see his name among the fresh-faced Bruins prospects who started skating in Thursday’s opening practice for Bruins rookie camp at Warrior Ice Arena. But it’s not when one pulls back a little further and realizes how important this upcoming NHL training camp is to Bjork, once considered the top forward prospect in the entire Bruins organization just a couple of seasons ago.
But after each of his last two seasons ended in shoulder surgery amidst just five goals and 15 points in those 50 aforementioned NHL games, Bjork is at a young crossroads in his career. The young winger is healthy headed into this season’s training camp and eager to show what he can do after lots of question marks over the last two seasons.
“It was about a six month recovery and rehab. Technically I was cleared in July, so I’m feeling good now,” said Bjork. “I’ve had a lot of time to get ready for this season, so I’m trying to be as prepared as I can both physically and mentally. Part of being a pro hockey player is learning to prepare the right way and do all you can to avoid injuries, and that’s something I’ve learned the hard way that I’ve got to do.”
Is he still the Notre Dame superstar who came out of college early because he — and the Bruins — thought he was ready for the NHL?
Or is Bjork one of those college star players who might turn out to not be big enough, strong enough, fast enough or tough enough for the NHL game? Or maybe he’s just unlucky enough to not be able to stay on the ice to see how good he can wind up being at the NHL level?
Whatever the case, Bjork hasn’t been healthy enough to develop at either the NHL or AHL level. So nobody knows exactly how good he can be at the NHL level, or whether he could be a top-6 winger for a Bruins team that needs a player who can skate, score and play two-way hockey the way they projected Bjork a few years ago.
Entering the final year of his entry level contract, this is a major year for Bjork to either show something at the NHL level or begin to fade back in Boston’s plans a little bit.
“I’m definitely curious about what I can do with a full [healthy] season. Every player wants to play every game for whatever team that they’re on,” said Bjork. “I’ve been out for so long. Over two years I’ve barely played one full season of hockey, so any extra games will help from a conditioning standpoint and from where I’m at in a skills standpoint.
“All the young guys are excited about [the NHL roster openings]. We’ve seen here that young guys can make the roster and make an impact, so it’s definitely an exciting opportunity for all of us young guys [in training camp].”
Whether it’s for second-line right wing or on the third line, there are going to be forward openings at the NHL level that Bjork will absolutely be in the mix for over the next five weeks. He’s no longer the hotshot young prospect — guys like Jack Studnicka will fill that role this time around — but Bjork might just be a more NHL-ready option at the start of this season given his pro experience.
But he’ll have to show he’s up to the task when it comes to playing strong on the puck, maximizing his skills into point production and staying healthy enough to develop into the best version of himself on the ice.
The 23-year-old is getting a head start on all of those things with his participation in both this weekend’s Bruins rookie camp and prospect tournament.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.