After a two-goal, five-point weekend (two games), University of Notre Dame junior right wing Anders Bjork sits atop the NCAA scoring list one month into the 2016-17 hockey campaign.
The fifth-round pick in 2014 has come on like gangbusters going back to last season after originally being projected as more of a grinding defensive-type forward coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team. The Wisconsin native always had impressive speed and agility, but his slick hands and a noteworthy offensive hockey IQ have him as the topic of frequent discussions in the scouting community as a classic late-bloomer. Obviously, if anyone had seen this coming from Bjork (whose father, Kirt, and NHL cousin Erik Condra, were also standout members of Fighting Irish teams of old), the former Chicago Mission standout would have been drafted much higher than the 146th overall selection.
Bjork plays with urgency and pace- you notice him on just about every shift because he’s moving his feet- either attacking into the teeth of defenses or pressuring the opposing puck carrier as a relentless forechecker who forces turnovers with his feet and instincts.
Watch the highlight video here, and on the last goal you can see how aggressive he is at using his speed and stickhandling skills to take the puck to the net and the poor netminder doesn’t have a chance here with some grade-A maneuvering to finish off the play.
We saw some of this last year in the WJC when Bjork joined fellow B’s prospect and 2014 draft selection Ryan Donato with two goals apiece to secure the bronze medal. Admittedly, TSP wondered if it was an aberration, but we need no further proof- Bjork is for real. Where once we thought his ceiling was a solid third-liner good for 15-20 goals, there’s the potential for a good deal more if he continues his upward trajectory. An added bonus is Bjork’s versatility- he can play any forward position.
Of course, his 7 goals and 16 points in 8 games has created immediate discussion of Bjork “pulling a (Jimmy) Vesey” on Twitter and other Internet locales. Not to be glib or dismissive, but…really guys? That kind of talk is premature, predicated on the assumption that because other successful NCAA players have opted to wait out the four-year rights-owning period by the drafting club, that Bjork will do the same thing.
It’s possible that Bjork could do just that, but he’ll have to wait until August 16, 2018 to become an unrestricted free agent and because he’s playing so well, you have to imagine that the Bruins will do all in their power to sign him this spring, when his season is officially done. This is not to say that Bjork will sign or politely rebuff the attempts as Vesey did in the spring of 2015 when he was coming off a 30+ goal season at Harvard. If Bjork does that, then the B’s will have a precedent for what could transpire and all bets are off- they’ll have to protect the asset and do what they can to get something back for him. However, that’s a bridge we can cross later- it’s November 1- we’re still months away from the team even being in a position to tender Bjork an opportunity to turn pro. However, nobody should just assume that because Vesey took the action he did, that Bjork will opt for the same.
Now, in order to get him to commit, the B’s might need to get creative an offer Bjork a spot with the NHL club right away and the chance to burn a year off his three-year ELC the way Torey Krug did when he chose Boston as an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Sometimes, you have to give to get, but this is the new reality of CBA-permitted tactics that players and their advisors can leverage to their advantage. A fifth-round pick getting max rookie money and a chance to be an RFA one year earlier is a pretty enticing deal- it’s easy to project that someone might just wait it out until 2018, but there’s risk involved with suffering a major injury or going through a lackluster campaign that could diminish the bargaining power.
Bottom line- we’ll eventually find out, but let’s get past the whole “Bjork could pull a Vesey” trope and enjoy the 20-year-old’s season for what it is: a breakout performance that signals the latest impressive find for the Bruins, whose scouts (led by college scouting chief Ryan Nadeau) have mined the NCAA ranks for promising talent.
Other B’s prospect notes-
The Bruins announced today that with Patrice Bergeron a game-time decision (when it rains it pours) tonight against the Florida Panthers (and David Pastrnak serving the second of a two-game suspension, plus David Backes still injured) former San Jose Sharks prospect Sean Kuraly has been called up to the big club.
Kuraly, who was acquired on June 30, 2015 as part of the deal that sent Martin Jones to the West Coast for a first-round pick (Trent Frederic), is a big-bodied forward who can play either center or wing. He’s got good feet and hands, but the offensive hockey sense probably has him projecting more as a third/fourth-line guy. He had a strong training camp, however, and played well enough to earn the look. In eight AHL games, he has just one assist.
It’s one more opportunity for a young player to get a look, but perhaps we should be thankful that the Bruins are 4-4 instead of much worse given the adversity they’ve dealt with in the early going. Ruck up- injuries are a part of the game, so you have to deal with it as best you can, but the depth is being tested.
2015 first-rounder Zach Senyshyn is off his 45-goal pace from a year ago, but cut the kid some slack- he dealt with mononucleosis over the summer and then an emergency appendectomy right before the start of rookie camp. It’s not an excuse, but anyone bagging on the kid is probably looking for a reason to be negative at this point.
In a perfect world, Senyshyn would be on pace for 55-60 goals, but that isn’t reality- hockey is an imperfect game played by imperfect humans. Just because you expect certain things to happen doesn’t mean a player is a failure if your statistical expectations aren’t met, and unless you’ve been through the double-whammy of mono and appendicitis in the span of weeks, you probably ought not to be talking about how well he should or shouldn’t be playing. Just sayin’. Sometimes, just because you can vomit forth an uninformed opinion on something, doesn’t mean you should.
Senyshyn is still a fine NHL prospect albeit one who isn’t getting the expected points, so critiquing the lower-than-expected numbers is fair game, while writing him off is not. We’re a little over a month into the season…chillax, folks.
Ryan Donato began his sophomore season with a bang, netting a pair of goals in a lopsided victory over Arizona State in a weekend series. Wiley Sherman also registered a pair of assists. The ECAC regular season officially begins on Friday. With Donato’s high-end hockey sense and hands, watch for him to put up a lot of points this season, but undrafted 23-year-old senior Luke Esposito bagged 2 goals and 6 points against the Sun Devils to take the early scoring lead for the Crimson.
I like what Zane McIntyre is doing for the Bruins. Technique has never been his strong suit- it’s always been about the compete and battle level with him. He deserved a better fate against the NY Rangers last week, he earned a longer stay in Boston because he gave his team a shot in that game. McIntyre struggled at times last season with the pace and skill of pro hockey, but what has benefited him most throughout his hockey career is his personality and a mental toughness that allows him to play the role of both workhorse and backup.
We are all seeing how important an effective Tuukka Rask is to this Bruins club, but McIntyre has done pretty well in his limited audition to show that he is capable of being an NHL goaltender, even if his time is not quite now.
Here’s the updated stats charts:
Amateur Prospects as of 11/01/16
|Anders Bjork, Notre Dame||HE-NCAA||8||7||9||16||2|
|Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George||WHL||11||6||8||14||12|
|Trent Frederic, Wisconsin||Big10- NCAA||6||3||5||8||4|
|Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU||HE- NCAA||5||2||5||7||2|
|Ryan Fitzgerald, BC||HE-NCAA||9||3||4||7||12|
|Jakub Zboril, Saint John||QMJHL||9||2||5||7||6|
|Zach Senyshyn, SSM||OHL||10||4||2||6||10|
|Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin||Big10- NCAA||6||1||5||6||6|
|Charlie McAvoy, BU||HE-NCAA||5||0||4||4||4|
|Jack Becker, Sioux Falls||USHL||11||2||2||4||8|
|Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda*||QMJHL||2||1||2||3||0|
|Ryan Donato, Harvard||ECAC- NCAA||2||2||0||2||0|
|Wiley Sherman, Harvard||ECAC-NCAA||2||0||2||2||2|
|Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.||WCHA- NCAA||8||0||1||1||8|
|Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota||Big10- NCAA||6||0||0||0||2|
* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)
Pro and European Prospects
|Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr.||U20- Finland||11||7||9||16||2|
|Peter Cehlarik, Providence||AHL||5||2||2||4||4|
|Anton Blidh, Providence||AHL||8||2||1||3||2|
|Austin Czarnik, Providence#||AHL||2||1||2||3||0|
|Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF||Sweden- Elite||10||1||2||3||6|
|Matt Grzelcyk, Providence||AHL||8||1||2||3||2|
|Colton Hargrove, Providence||AHL||7||1||0||1||5|
|Colby Cave, Providence||AHL||8||1||0||1||4|
|Linus Arnesson, Providence||AHL||8||0||1||1||2|
|Sean Kuraly, Providence||AHL||8||0||1||1||9|
|Oskar Steen, MoDo||Sweden- Div 2||3||0||0||0||2|
|Justin Hickman, Providence||AHL||3||0||0||0||5|
|Rob O’Gara, Providence||AHL||3||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Casto, Providence||AHL||7||0||0||0||6|
|Zane McIntyre, Providence#||AHL||3||1||0||0.44||.977|
|Malcolm Subban, Providence||AHL||5||0||4||4.50||.857|
|Dan Vladar, Providence||AHL||2||1||0||2.97||.917|
|Brian Ferlin, Providence*||AHL||0||0||0||0||0|
# Czarnik, McIntyre recalled to Boston
*Brian Ferlin- injured
** Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed