Before the team's season opener against Nashville, the CBJ goal scorer talks about securing his future in Ohio
Oliver Bjorkstrand is becoming an Ohioan.
Bjorkstrand, 25, was born and grew up in Denmark, the son of a hockey coach. His father, Todd, a native Minnesotan, moved to Denmark during his playing career and became coach of one of the country’s top youth hockey programs.
Oliver played for his dad until he turned 17, when he came to North America to play major junior hockey in Canada. A third-round selection of the Blue Jackets in 2013, Bjorkstrand has become an increasingly prolific goal-scorer at the NHL level.
The team signed him to a five-year contract extension earlier this month. Bjorkstrand also got engaged earlier this month, to a woman from Cleveland whom he met while assigned to the Jackets’ American Hockey League affiliate a few seasons back.
“I’m off to a good start in 2021,” Bjorkstrand told me by phone.
And this before the first puck drop of the regular season.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
While he plays international hockey for Denmark, Bjorkstrand seems to be making himself at home here in Columbus.
“I feel like I’m securing my future here,” he said. “I’m starting a life with my fiancée, and hopefully I know I’m going to be here at least the next six seasons.”
His teammates, the front office and CBJ fans can take some comfort in Bjorkstrand’s commitment to the team. Last year’s marketing tagline, “Loyalty,” was inspired, at least in part, by the prior offseason departures of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky. (It felt a little embarrassing, but you can understand where it came from.)
Then there was the flap over the trade request lodged by Pierre-Luc Dubois, the team’s young star forward, just as his two-year extension was announced.
So in Bjorkstrand you have a player who’s gotten better every season, who scored a team-high 21 goals last season, who is saying things like “securing my future here.”
“Every year it feels more like home. I like the city and I like living here. My fiancée is from Cleveland, so it’s good to be close to her family,” Bjorkstrand said.
And while Oliver is no longer geographically near his family, the senior Bjorkstrand remains an important presence.
“Having my dad involved in hockey and coaching, it’s helped me out a lot every step of the way, even after I got drafted and then signed my first NHL contract,” he said. “I appreciate him and everything he’s done for me in my career.”
And make no mistake, this is the career Bjorkstrand wanted.
“I just loved playing hockey. I mean, if I had wanted to do something else, my parents would have let me, but they saw how much I love the game,” Bjorkstrand said. “For me, it has always been the dream to be a professional hockey player.”
It’s his scoring acumen that has assured that dream would become a reality — from Denmark to major junior to the AHL, Bjorkstrand could always put the puck in the net, something that continued at the NHL level. But Bjorkstrand needed to learn how to play a complete game to be effective at the game’s highest level.
“He’s always been able to score, everybody knew that. And when he got here, it was as advertised,” Assistant Coach Brad Larsen said. “But there’s a learning process, a maturity and understanding of what it takes to play against the best in the world. He’s worked hard to develop those other parts of his game, to compete night-to-night, shift-to-shift. He’s done that. His best years are ahead of him.”
Larsen credits a competitive fire that burns beneath a calm exterior.
“He’s a soft-spoken kid — engaging, but quiet. But deep down he’s a really competitive guy. He’s hungry to be the best every night,” Larsen said.
“I want to help the team win however I can, from scoring to playing a solid two-way game. And this year, I want to score at a higher pace than last year,” Bjorkstrand said.
And while still only 25, he’s got a lot of hockey experience to share with the even younger players on the roster.
“If that’s another way I can help the team win, by showing the younger guys how to go through some of the things I’ve gone through, I’ll be there,” he said. “I think I have something to offer, to support and be there for my teammates.”
As long as he can “be there” while being here.