By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
(Welcome to 98.5 The Sports Hub's The Weekend Wraparound -- or just The Wraparound, WW, Wrap, or whatever you care to call it. I'm not big on names. But here's what you should know about it: It's a weekly column that will run every Saturday in addition to our complete coverage of the Boston Bruins, with or without ice available.)
A truly bizarre first professional season ended in fitting fashion for Anders Bjork.
With David Backes throwing a low-percentage, fling-it-on shot on net in a sleepy Jan. 30 loss to the Ducks, Bjork made a relatively hopeless push towards the front of the net. It was on that drive that Bjork was met with the stick of Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin right to the arm, and immediately found himself doubled over and helped off the ice.
It was the last time we saw Bjork as an on-ice contributor for the Bruins -- he underwent a season-ending shoulder surgery that came with a six-month recovery shortly after -- and honestly, you would think that he's since been demoted to the ECHL.
At least that's what you've been left to think with the Bjork's absence from almost every armchair coach's 2018-19 B's roster.
But that's probably not how the Bruins themselves are approaching Bjork's involvement with next year's team.
Keep in mind that when Bjork came to the Bruins last year, he was perhaps the hottest prospect in the system behind Charlie McAvoy.
The lightyear-fast Bjork, who played both left and right wing during his collegiate career with Notre Dame, was coming to the Bruins after guiding the Fighting Irish to a Frozen Four appearance, was a Hobey Baker finalist, and totaled 40 goals and 109 points in 115 games. Bjork also stayed true to the Bruins, as well, which was something the Black and Gold front office more than appreciated given the way he could have Vesey'd them into a team of his choosing given that resume.
That loyalty was a two-way street, and left Bjork with a great chance of nabbing a spot on Boston's top-six in 2017.
The fit was there in the preseason, as Bjork rode to the right of the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron combo, which downright dominated teams in 27:12 of total even-strength ice-time over three games. Seriously, when this trio was on the ice, the Bruins outshot opponents 20-to-7, and out-chanced teams 12-to-4. Bergeron liked the preseason fit so much he expressed legitimate frustration with faceoff violations and penalties that routinely screwed up the forward configuration. In other words, he thought there was legitimate chemistry brewing with Bjork to his right and wanted to explore it further.
Bjork got his chance to ride with Bergeron in the regular season, too. And David Krejci, for that matter.
And in a year that saw any and every youngster get their chance with these players, Bjork's involvement is and was especially important for one reason: On a roster of natural left wings with left shot, Bjork was the most natural fit playing right wing.
In almost 90 five-on-five minutes with Bjork playing with Bergeron last season, the Bruins out-chanced the opposition 55-33, and outscored them 7-2. (In 53 regular-season minutes of Bjork with Bergeron and Marchand, the Bruins controlled possession at over 60 percent, and outscored teams 4-1.) With Krejci and Bjork together, the Bruins controlled possession at almost 54 percent and generated 41 scoring chances in 101 minutes, but were outscored 6-4 when on the ice together.
But Bjork spent the majority of a 30-game opening season away from both Bergeron and Krejci, though, and learned some hard lessons of the National Hockey League along the way. Matt Martin's harsh hello to Bjork put him on the shelf, and Bjork quickly learned that the things you could get away with in the NCAA ranks are things that cannot work in the NHL.
This is similar to the lesson that Danton Heinen learned when he tried to make a similar jump in the 2016-17 season, one that ended after just eight games (and with zero points), and one that made Heinen an impact player upon his return last season.
Quite simply, Heinen learned that while you may be quick, your decision-making has to be even quicker at the game's top level. It's just that the defensive structure -- even on the worst team that the National Hockey League has to offer -- is too good and too experience to let you get away with 'cheapies' on a regular basis.
"I definitely think the games I got were helpful," Bjork offered up. "I learned a ton, just tried to soak it all up when I was playing those games, and even just practicing and being around, tried to soak up as much as I could.
"I think I’m going to use that as an advantage for going into camp next year and trying to learn from the guys I watched, especially the young guys — what worked and what didn’t and try to, you know, avoid the mistakes that didn’t, but learn from like the success of [Danton] Heinen and [Jake] DeBrusk, [Charlie] McAvoy and [Matt] Grzelcyk and all those guys, so I think, you know, that’s what I’m trying to do. I definitely learned a lot, and hopefully I can apply that this summer to my training."
And if we're being honest, the Bruins kinda, sorta need this to happen.
If Bjork is able to nab a top-six spot -- and look capable, no less -- the Bruins have successfully found an internal candidate for what most consider to be the Black and Gold's greatest weakness on the roster. And the trickle-down effect is ridiculous.
If Bjork's a worthwhile contributor with Bergeron, he becomes a lock for 20 goals and 40 to 50 points by the year's end. It's probably somewhere between 15-18 goals and 35 points if it's with Krejci. But if Bjork's with Bergeron, that means David Pastrnak is with Krejci, which gives the Bruins two legitimate scoring lines. That is something they sorely missed in their five-game bowout to the Lightning in round two last postseason. It would also keep Heinen in the bottom-six role he thrived in a season ago -- and still allow No. 43 to be the Bruins' Swiss army knife that moves up and down the lineup when needed -- while Ryan Donato's offensive game can (and will) feast on some other team's third-best defensive pairing.
Most of all, though, the Bruins would not have to part with a ridiculous bundle of assets -- likely one of their NHL defensemen, one of the other young forwards (perhaps even Bjork himself), and future draft picks -- if Bjork's in that spot.
So here's to hoping you wrote your first projected lineup in pencil. Or included Bjork, at the very least.
Loose pucks: The cheapest ticket for the 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame will run you $85 before fees. The most expensive? $505. That's a lot of money for Game No. 40 of the regular season against a non-conference opponent. But, you're outside! What a fun, unusual, and wacky thing to do! Somebody give this event a five-year breather... Take a look at the Bruins' first 12 games of the season and try to tell me that this team doesn't have a legitimate chance of starting out with at least nine wins in their first 12 games. Such a start would be gigantic for this team given the improvement of the Atlantic as a whole... No matter the move the Bruins do or do not make this summer or in-season, I feel relatively confident saying that Jake DeBrusk will not be part of it. In addition to his clutch goal-scoring skills, and thanks to a contract slide, the Bruins have DeBrusk on his entry-level deal for another two seasons. You can't put a price on that.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.