BRIGHTON, Mass. — With David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase off to slow starts with the main Bruins group after being left out of practice due to international quarantine rules, it’s created an opportunity for others at B’s Return to Play camp this week.
The Bruins player who's taken the most advantage of that opportunity? It’s got to be 23-year-old Anders Bjork, who is poised to be even more of an impact player for the Bruins coming off a regular season where he stayed healthy, stayed consistent and finally established himself as an NHL player.
Bruce Cassidy pointed Bjork out specifically during the first day of camp back on Monday at Warrior Ice Arena and he’s been skating the right wing in Pastrnak’s place on the top line ever since. Then again, Bjork has more to compete for than some of the other B’s forwards who already have their regular spots locked up in the lineup.
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Once the Bruins traded for Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie toward the end of the shortened regular season, it wasn’t an automatic that Bjork would be in the lineup. It’s the same situation now with actual games just a couple of weeks away from happening in the Toronto hub city.
“We like Anders as a person, we like him as a player, but we’re going to play the 12 best guys, however they fit in our lineup,” Cassidy said of Bjork, who just a few years ago was the B’s top forward prospect after lighting it up at the college level for Notre Dame. “He’s certainly in that mix. Is he automatic? No. So for him, this return to play, these practice sessions are more important than some of the other guys because you don’t have a lot of games to prove yourself.
“That’s something we’ll be looking for, for him and for a few of the other guys. That’s where Anders is at and we’ll see how it plays out in the next two weeks, three weeks.”
Bjork finished with nine goals and 19 points along with a plus-5 rating in 58 games and showed the kind of speed, skill and versatility to play up and down the top three lines in the B’s forward group. In the first few days of camp he’s showed a little more offensive polish, a smidge more confidence and a willingness to be stronger on and off the puck.
Those are things he’s been keying on with his first Stanley Cup playoff experience dead ahead amidst a very competitive situation with Boston’s forward group.
“I think I’ve been pleased with how I’ve felt out there. Going in, I think everybody wasn’t sure if you were going to have the [skating] legs that you had during the season with the skill, and stuff. And there are things I need to work on a bit. That’s been my mentality that I need to keep sharpening up my skill set a little bit for when the games start,” said Bjork, who said he was able to start skating in late June back in Wisconsin prior to the start of Return to Play camp. “I definitely had time to reflect [on the season].
“I made some strides with consistency, especially on the defensive side where I really thought that I earned some trust there and matured my game. It was one of my main goals was to earn the trust of the coaching staff and my teammates, and I think I did that a little bit. The main thing [for me] is continuing to build the offensive confidence and tenacity.
I think I’ve shown it in spurts here or there, but it’s about building that offensive confidence and a real attack mindset. It’s something I’m focused on moving forward. I did a decent job, but I felt like I was timid at times when I look back at some of my games. There were opportunities where I could have been ready to go attacking the net, and that’s something the coaches have talked to me about a lot.
A Bjork willing to regularly attack the net and using his speed and skill to make plays could be a big factor for the Bruins when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs next month. They need somebody else to step up and be a player other teams have to worry about in the middle-6, or a player who could potentially slide up with Bergeron and Marchand while freeing up David Pastrnak to skate with David Krejci for a more diversified attack.
Given the lack of right wing presence in camp, Bjork has clearly heeded the coaching and applied it to his game after a lot of time over the last few months to dissect his game. Now it will be about doing it during games once he inevitably gets his chance when the NHL returns to play, and showing that he’s indeed ready to be more of a factor for a Bruins team still desperately searching for secondary scoring in their lineup.