Oliver Bjorkstrand "ready for this journey" with Kraken

Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 27: Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena on February 27, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)Photo: Getty Images

Forgive Oliver Bjorkstrand if he’s been a little absent. A couple of important life-changing events have consumed his year. 

At 27 years of age, Bjorkstrand is now an accomplished NHL veteran forward, established in a role as a reliable goal-scoring sniper, and has a five-year contract ($5.4 million annually) with attached long-term job security. He’s achieved the dream so many players grow up trying to reach. 

That’s not all. Coming off his finest season, a career-high 28 goals last season to lead the Blue Jackets, he and wife Jill got married. It seemed the fairy tale year, leading to an exotic honeymoon this summer in South Africa, knew no limits.  

A phone call to Bjorkstrand while on said honeymoon around the 11pm hour, just before he and Jill were heading to bed on return to the vacation lodge, then threw the whole year into a major plot twist. 

“I was in the middle of nowhere, saw a few missed calls, and figured I'd have to call back and hear what it was,” said Bjorkstrand. “I kind of figured what the phone call was about.” 

He was getting traded. 

On July 22, a massive deal went down that Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis originally went into with a mission to seize the moment, fortifying a summer roster makeover with another dose of offensive punch. With cap space to play with and the Blue Jackets millions over the salary cap limit after signing superstar forward Johnny Gaudreau and extending established star Patrik Laine, Francis made his move. 

The Kraken got their man in Bjorkstrand, who returns to the Pacific Northwest after a prolific major junior career with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League and figuring to play a major role in the team’s presumably upgraded attack. He elevated his game to new career highs, still with four more years left on his contract. All it cost for the Kraken to relieve the Blue Jackets of their predicament was a package of two draft picks – a third rounder next year, and a fourth rounder in 2024.  

Mike Benton and Everett Fitzhugh react to the Bjorkstrand trade

Bjorkstrand couldn’t talk immediately after the trade (remember that honeymoon?). 

But nearly two weeks later, as he met the Seattle media for the first time by video conferencing, please excuse him if the emotions of finding a new place to live, now with a spouse in the picture, after the last seven years in the same spot are a little raw. 

“I wouldn’t say I expected that phone call,” said Bjorkstrand. “It was a little bit of a shocker.” 

Bjorkstrand, understandably still struggling to summarize those events, visibly lowered his head into his left hand as he paused for a second, then asked for a repeat of a follow up question. 

Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Four

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 16: Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates after beating Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning for a goal in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 16, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)Photo: Getty Images

While putting the life events he’s celebrated in Columbus in the rear-view mirror, reflection was also blended with optimism, as he prepares to introduce his developed firepower to a hungry NHL fanbase that sold out every home game in its expansion season. 

“I’m ready for this journey,” said Bjorkstrand with a smile.

“After I had some time to think about it, I got really excited about it.” 

Bjorkstrand raved about helping establish a “winning culture” in a program that’s only one year old, in its infancy with phenoms Matty Beniers and Shane Wright (who has yet to make his NHL debut) fresh out of the box and perhaps years away from reaching their full potential. 

Along the way, Bjorkstrand’s influence will felt on the scoresheet, supplementing established veterans in Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, free agent pickup Andre Burakovsky and more, in the top six portion of the forward lineup and on the power play where his deft touch and marksman shot have the ability to impact games on a routine basis. 

As a third round pick in the 2013 draft class, where by expert accounts, could have been theoretically re-drafted in the first round, he’ll also likely be felt in the dressing room. With leadership on his resume after previously wearing a letter on his Blue Jackets jersey, he cited Boone Jenner, the Columbus captain Bjorkstrand said who “has the right attitude,” as an influence for his core values, blocking shots no matter the score. 

“It’s just how you approach every game, making sure even if you’re having a bad game, that you’re battling hard out there,” said Bjorkstrand. 

“If young guys or other guys on the team are seeing an assistant captain or captain not practicing the right way, or skipping on workouts they want us doing, or letting go in games, it’s going to spread to the whole team. As leadership, you have to make sure you lead the right way.” 

Perhaps the transition will be smoother by the time Columbus marches into Seattle on January 28. That’ll be the first time Bjorkstrand is scheduled to face his former team. Then, there’s the return to Columbus on March 3. 

“It'll be fun, it'll be weird,” said Bjorkstrand. 

“I'll have it marked on the calendar.”

Plenty of time until then for Bjorkstrand to make his mark. 

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