Sometimes a coming of age for a young NHL player is as much about necessity based on circumstance as it can be about the youngster being ready to take things to the next level. That could be the case for Anders Bjork as the speedy, skilled winger has a giant opportunity in front of him based on the way things have played out for the Black and Gold.
Ondrej Kase didn’t travel with the rest of the Bruins to the Hub City in Toronto last weekend, doesn’t have a set timetable as to when he’ll actually make to the bubble and will need to undergo another four-day quarantine when he does finally join the rest of the group. Bjork and youngster Jack Studnicka got all of the reps at practice over the last few weeks with both Kase and David Pastrnak missing from the fold at training camp.
“Obviously we’ve had some guys miss practice, but we knew there would be a bit of the unknown going into it with testing issues,” said Cassidy. “Those are slowly getting rectified. It doesn’t really bother of you as a coach aside from having your full group, but it’s allowed a guy like Jack Studnicka to be in the drills a little more. You get a look at Bjork and you get a look at [Studnicka] on the wing. It’s allowed some of those young guys to get more of a look.
“You come into a situation like this after four months off and at his age there’s some maturity. Even though we’re finishing a season and returning to play, in a sense there was an accomplishment of another year under his belt [in the regular season]. It just makes you a little more confident.”
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With Pastrnak back in the fold with the rest of the team and practicing in Toronto, that means there is one top-6 right wing spot open for competition until Kase can finally get up to speed over the next few weeks.
It’s a golden chance to shine for a 23-year-old player like Bjork, who is coming off his first full NHL season where he began finally living up to his vast potential. Bjork had nine goals and 19 points in 58 games along with a plus-5 rating while staying healthy for the first time in his pro career and showed the flashes of potential that made him Boston’s top forward prospect just a couple of years ago.
With a five-month break essentially acting as an offseason for his rookie NHL campaign, Bjork now comes back stronger, more confident and perhaps even better while essentially poised to be a second-year regular.
It looked like he would be caught in a numbers game back in March after the Bruins traded for Ducks wingers Kase and Nick Ritchie at the deadline, but it’s been Bjork that’s been a constant while Kase and Ritchie have missed their share of practice time.
Bjork looked strong, assertive and as fast as ever while getting long looks in Phase 3 camp over the last few weeks and looks poised to come of age for the B's in these playoffs over the next few months. Now it’s just a matter of living up to the speed and skill package that he brings to the table and solidifying his niche after circumstances opened the door for him during the Return to Play.
"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,” said Bjork. “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 [as a rookie]. 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.”
Bjork will need to win the second line right wing spot outright with an exhibition game on Thursday following by round-robin games starting this weekend against the Flyers, and he’ll need to build some chemistry with David Krejci to make it happen.
But there’s a lane for Bjork to really make a leap forward in his first playoff experience over the next few months if he’s ready, willing and able to seize it.