Anders Bjork healthy again, ready to compete for Bruins' open forward spots

Anders Bjork healthy again, ready to compete for Bruins' open forward spots

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.

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Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

WASHINGTON  – It might have been the Bruins' fourth loss in a row and, for the first time all season, the B's have lost three consecutive regulation games, but there were glimmers of hope in the 3-2 defeat at hands of the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

The Bruins marched out to a 1-0 lead after David Pastrnak’s first goal in five games and it would have been a two-goal lead early in the game if a silly offsides challenge that had nothing to do with the actual goal hadn’t overturned Patrice Bergeron’s power-play strike.

So, the Bruins had a better start than they have had recently, had a solid three periods of play while outshooting the Capitals 32-25 and played with more engagement, effort and urgency than they have shown in a couple of weeks. It was certainly encouraging that the Bruins are turning the corner back toward consistently good efforts rather than some of the forgettable, unfocused efforts of the past couple of weeks. Still, it was again a loss. 

“We’re all frustrated, but as a coach, you like how the 60 minutes transpired better than some of the other nights. We were in the game, right there and very easily could have won the game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Two or three things probably changed that, but in terms of a 60-minute effort we’re getting a lot closer to where we want to be.”

The good news is that the Bruins leadership group sees light at the end of the tunnel with another big game against the Tampa Bay Lightning awaiting them 24 hours later. 

“I thought that’s the kind of hockey that [we] want to play and you want to get back to,” said Bergeron of a Bruins team that’s taken just one out of a possible eight points in their last four games. “There are still some things to rectify with us coming up short, but we’re trending in the right direction. But it’s a short turnaround with the game [against Tampa Bay].”

The Bruins are still sitting on a 10-point lead in the division over Buffalo and Montreal despite having dropped four in a row, so there’s clearly no panic or feeling like their backs are against the wall. On the contrary, that might be part of the lack of urgency that’s crept into the B’s game the past couple of weeks, but they showed Wednesday night that they still have a solid, consistent effort in them when the mood strikes them.

Perhaps the good, honest and hard-working losing effort against the Capitals can spin the Bruins back into a winning direction with a couple of road games in Florida staring them in the face.

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Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

WASHINGTON - GOLD STAR: All T.J. Oshie did was score a couple of goals that powered the Capitals for all of their offense in the second period while setting Washington up to win the third. The first score was a power-play goal right in front of the net that tied things up and the second was a nifty individual move where he split defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Connor Clifton before dangling around Clifton and roofing a backhander for a beautiful goal. Oshie finished with two shots on net and four shot attempts overall in 20:31 of ice time to go along with a blocked shot. Still, it was all about the offense provided when the Capitals needed it as a bit of a one-man goal-scoring show on a night when Alex Ovechkin was pretty much held in check.

BLACK EYE: Jake DeBrusk at least had a positive play when he fed Patrice Bergeron for a first-period, power-play goal that would have given the Bruins a 2-0 lead. Instead, the goal was wiped off the board by an offsides challenge and DeBrusk was a negative player for the Black and Gold for the rest of the night. DeBrusk finished with no points, no shots on net and had three giveaways in 20:50 while finishing with a minus-1 rating. He certainly wasn’t alone with not bringing enough to the table for the B’s, but it was him fading into the background in a physical, gritty game against a quality opponent that conjured up memories of his issues in the playoffs last season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins tied the score by grinding for a third-period goal from their fourth line, but then they gave up a go-ahead goal less than two minutes later. Then the B’s proceeded to get outshot 11-9 in the third period despite never leading at any point in the final 20 minutes and never really mounting enough pressure to potentially tie it to pus things to the extra session. It’s a massive letdown for the B’s to claw all the way back and then watch as it goes up in smoke in just a couple of minutes, but it was about Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson – two of Washington’s best players – stepping up and making the play when it needed to be made.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak snapped his longest goal-scoring drought of the season at four games as he scored the first goal for the Bruins on a sizzling wrist shot. It was a nice transition play from Charlie McAvoy bombing down the left side before moving cross-ice to Pastrnak at the bottom of the face-off circle. Pastrnak snapped it off the crossbar and into the back of the net for his NHL-leading 26th goal and got Boston off to a good start for the first time in a while. Pastrnak finished with the goal, seven shot attempts, a hit and three takeaways in 21:16 while playing a strong, solid, Pastrnak-like game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 – the number of consecutive losses for the Bruins. They have lost four in a row one other time this season, but it’s the first time they’ve lost three regulation games in a row.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just told him I'm happy for him and congrats. He looks like he's got a six-pack now, so I'm just happy for him. It was great to see him. It's been a while." –Brad Marchand, on what he said to former teammate Tim Thomas when he was on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop as a new inductee for the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

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