American Hockey League

Bjork honing his game for a Boston return

After Anders Bjork was among the last big group of cuts by the Bruins, coach Bruce Cassidy – ever forthright – conceded that the Notre Dame product “pushed back” on the move. Bjork thought he had a pretty good camp, which he did, and he let the coach know that.

It was nothing disrespectful, mind you, and it was actually the kind of response for which he coach was hoping.

Still, stories of top prospects who almost make the big club only to sputter once they report to their AHL destinations are pretty common, whether it’s from disappointment, overconfidence or whatever reason. It was something to keep an eye on.

That, however, does not sound like the case with Bjork. Not only did he pitch in with a goal and an assist in the P-Bruins opening weekend that produced two road wins, Bjork is focusing on the things that will get him back to e NHL.

“Everyone wants to play in the NHL,” said Bjork at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center last week, “but there are definitely things I can work on. I had good conversations with Butchie and management as well. I appreciate their thoughts and the advice they gave me, what I need to work on. I agree with it. It’s good we’re on the same page there. Obviously, players can look at it as a negative, getting sent down and not playing exactly where you want to be. But personally I’m excited about this opportunity to work on things and maybe play a bit more and maybe develop my game to get it to where I want it to be.”

While skilled players like Bjork often get sent to the farm to work on the less glamorous details of the game, the B’s are hoping Bjork regains the finish he had when he left ND early (21-31-52 totals in 35 games his junior season) and before his first two pro seasons ended prematurely with shoulder surgery.

“I had a good amount of chances in the preseason and I realize what my strengths are in getting to those area for chances,” said Bjork. “Now I think I just need to get a little bit of my touch back and find ways to finish more of those plays and consistently produce.”

While Bjork played much of his collegiate career and early in his pro career on the right wing, the left shooting Bjork has played almost exclusively on left side during rookie and training camp and last weekend with Providence this season. Playing on the strong side does have its advantages.

“It’s not that big of a difference for me, really, but I do like being on my forehand a bit and having that opportunity to make quicker players and also avoid cutting in the middle as much because I think that got me int trouble a bit when I was up with Boston the last couple of years,” said Bjork. “I think I had a tendency to do that from college. I think I want to drive the puck down and to the net more and being on the my forehand on the left helps with that.”

With the forward lines in Boston unsettled despite the early success, Bjork could still play an important role with the varsity. If the belief that he’s best suited for the left side is cemented in Providence then he won’t be that perfect fit on David Krejci‘s right side – Karson Kuhlman and Brett Ritchie are currently getting looks there – but he could give Cassidy more options, such as bumping up current third line left wing Danton Heinen over to the Krejci’s right side and Bjork could move into Heinen’s spot.

But meanwhile, Bjork can work on his craft outside of the spotlight.

“I think there can be a little less pressure for guys when they come down because you don’t have that fear of being sent down all the time,” said Bjork. “You can really focus on the things you need to work on and can I do that without as much pressure. But there’s still that competition here, which is good. It pushes all of us. That’s something I’m trying to use to my advantage. We’re all competitors and we try to embrace that competition and there are a lot of good players with skill here.”

The work ethic has been there for Bjork, said Providence coach Jay Leach.

“He’s come down and been excellent,” said Leach. “He’s on the ice after practice, he’s all in. He’s terrific. He played a bunch both nights. He’s owning the puck, he wants to make a difference, he wants to make plays. All I’ve seen is a desire to get back there, and he’s going to let his play speak for that.”

Sabres for real?

So are these Buffalo Sabres for real? Their best player, Jack Eichel, will have a big hand in answering that question. Eichel had an interesting week for the Sabres, who started the season at 3-0-1. Eichel was a monster in their 5-4 overtime win against Montreal on Wednesday, producing two goals and two assists in the back-and-forth contest. It was a performance befitting the “C” on his sweater.

But he might have been playing guilty. In the Sabres OT loss in Columbus in the game before, Eichel was stripped of the puck in the extra session by Nick Foligno, leading to the Blue Jackets’ game-winner. No shame in that. Foligno’s a good and well-paid player, too. But the loss of the puck happened in the corner and there was still time to atone for the turnover. Eichel only made a half-hearted attempt to do so.

The North Chelmsford product is still only 22 and it can take a while for players to learn how important consistency of effort is. But for Eichel to reach his potential, he still has to figure that out.

Good start

Leach was also very happy with the opening weekend of Urho Vaakanainen, the smooth-skating left shot defenseman who had an up-and-down camp.

“He was one of our best defensemen. He was up the ice, he made the power-play goal happen on Saturday night,” said Leach. “He was involved offensively, active off the blue line, his gaps were really tight. The biggest thing for me was that he just looked like he was a year older and he was comfortable in this league, which is a tough league t be in as a defenseman when you’re 19- or 20-years-old. He just looked like he was having a good time out there.”

Having spent most of a decade patrolling the blue line in the AHL, Leach knows how tough mentally it can be for a young prospect.

“You’re thinking ‘I’m not even dominating in this league.’ And there’s a lot of expectation there,” said Leach. “But he’s a year older, he’s more mature, he realizes he’s going to make some mistakes sometimes and that’s OK. We’re fine with the mistakes We just want to make sure he’s trying the same play again and doing it right and making that play. It looked like he was… I’m not sure if I want to say fearless, but he was. It wasn’t going to bother him. He’s was just going to make plays. And he was thinking ‘if I don’t I’ll get back on it because I can skate well enough.’”

While this is Vaakanainen’s second pro year in North America, he was limited to just 32 games last year thanks to a concussion he suffered with Boston at the start of the season and then a shoulder injury later in the season in Providence.

Consistency and good health are two priorities.

“It’s frustrating and it gets in your head,” said the Finn about being injured, “so I just try to be happy and have a positive mindset all the time, go day by day, game by game.”…

On Thursday, the B’s get their first look at the Lightning, again one of the favorites to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. They’d gotten off to a 1-1-1 start, which is no big deal. But their performance in an OT loss in Carolina last Sunday was an eyebrow-raiser. They were outshot by the Hurricanes, 44-13, and managed just two shots on net in the last two-plus periods.

Yes, the Bolts looked like their old selves once Brayden Point was inserted into the lineup in Tampa’s 7-3 win Toronto. But the absence of one good player should not lead to the type of no-show performance the Bolts.gave in Carolina….

Finally, if it’s too difficult to institute a 15-second statute of limitation on offsides, can we just get rid of the whole challenge? Please?


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