By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The offseason departure of Marcus Johansson, who proved to be a tremendous fit on the Bruins’ third line with Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen during last year’s run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, meant opportunity for countless Boston prospects.
And it will be the elder statesman of that group, Anders Bjork, who gets the first crack at replacing Johansson when the Bruins take their preseason grind to Philly for a Thursday head-to-head with the Flyers.
With the Bruins trying Bjork in a different (but more natural) position, too, as the team will move the 23-year-old Bjork (a left shot) to the left wing after two years of trying to make him work as a top-six right wing.
“I just find he plays a little more straight-line over there,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Bjork’s move to the left. “When he’s on the right side, he has a tendency to cut in a lot. He was getting himself in bad spots ‘cause he got away with it in college. Here, the D have better gaps, there’s better back-pressure, so we thought maybe he’d take a look at him over there.”
The defensive aspect of Bjork’s game seemed to be a major point of concern for Cassidy last season, and ultimately derailed the hopes of Bjork becoming a legitimate top-six weapon.
Appearing in just 20 NHL games last year before another shoulder injury — this time suffered in the AHL — put an end to Bjork’s second professional season, the Wisconsin-born winger eclipsed the 13-minute mark just four times. That was a result of both in-game benchings and a bottoming-out that saw No. 10 logging fourth-line minutes towards the end of his second NHL run.
Bjork was also one of Boston’s worst five-on-five skaters in terms of his Corsi-For percentage (Gemel Smith, who played a grand total of three games with the Bruins, was the only one worse), gave the puck away at the fourth-highest clip among Boston skaters with at least 20 games played, and generated the third-fewest shots per 60 minutes among that group.
But Bjork’s move from right to left is as much about breaking the Notre Dame alum out of bad habits as it is maximizing his ability to play with the puck on his stick on a most-definitely-improved third line with Coyle at center.
“I’m not saying he can’t make those adjustments; he started doing it later where he didn’t turn up as much, but [on the left side], with Charlie [Coyle] being a right stick, he’ll get some touches,” Cassidy suggested. “And then if you have a bigger guy going to the net — if it ends up being a [David] Backes or a [Brett] Ritchie — it allows Anders to see the puck a little more.”
This was something that brought the best out of Johansson during his Boston run, as Coyle’s booming presence through the middle of the ice opened up lanes for Johansson to enter the attacking zone cleanly, where his offensive instincts took over and led to countless chances for Coyle and Heinen. It’s not hard to find some similar qualities in Bjork, who has some wheels and was one of the more offensively-gifted talents in college hockey for a Fighting Irish squad that made it to the Frozen Four in Bjork’s final season at South Bend, and with Bjork earning Hobey Baker finalist honors along the way.
It’s just about finding the spot that allows Bjork to show exactly that.
And for the Bruins, that’s no longer on the right side of their top six forward group (not yet, anyway), but to the left of the best big-bodied center the Black and Gold can provide to bring the best out of Bjork’s game.
On the radio side of things, the game can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub, the flagship of the Bruins, while NESN and NHL Network will have the television broadcast of the action.
Here are the complete lines and pairings for the Bruins…
Anders Bjork – Charlie Coyle – Danton Heinen
Anton Blidh – Sean Kuraly – David Backes
Jake DeBrusk – Jack Studnicka – Karson Kuhlman
Peter Cehlarik – Brendan Gaunce – Robert Lantosi
Jeremy Lauzon – Connor Clifton
Urho Vaakanainen – Alex Petrovic
Cooper Zech – Josiah Didier