With three selections in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft it was clear that Columbus had the opportunity to load the pipeline with high end prospects. All three of those prospects have progressed well since the draft, but a true standout of last season was their 3rd round selection, 89th overall, Oliver Bjorkstrand. He had an outstanding season and some highlights included: 109 points in 69 games, a Division 1 World Junior Gold Medal (also voted Best Forward in the tournament), and he had the most goals (16) and points (33) in the Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs of any player. There could be a case made that he has the highest ceiling of all the prospects in the Columbus Blue Jackets system and an outside chance at making the team out of training camp. Hopefully, with the help of a sample of zone entry data from his time in Portland of the WHL provided by Megan (@butyoucarlotta on Twitter) and some Canadian Hockey League (CHL) stats provided by @ExtraSkater, you will see how great of a prospect Columbus found in the 3rd round.
Zone Entry Data
As I mentioned above I was able to obtain 16 games worth of zone entry data for Oliver Bjorkstrand (9 regular season games and 7 playoff games). Obviously this is a small sample size, but it still shows the type of skill he possesses. To quote Megan when asking her for this data, “spoiler: he’s amazing.” Here is the data for Oliver and 5 of his comparable teammates (image courtesy of Megan):
As you can see he led the team in some really important categories: total Zone Entries, Shots/Carry-in, and Shots/ZE. He was also second in Carry-in success rate, which is fantastic considering he attempted 56 more zone entries than the player who was first.
First, let’s look at total Zone Entries, which means the total amount of times Oliver tried to enter the offensive zone by carrying the puck in or dumping the puck in. For those that don’t know, Portland was a very good and very deep team last year finishing 2nd overall in the WHL and ranking 3rd overall in the entire CHL. So for Bjorkstrand to lead them in Zone Entries in this sample is great. It means that he wants the puck, his teammates want him to have the puck, and he does great things once he has it. Next he led in shots per carry-in and shots per zone entry. These are related stats as shots per carry-in means the amount of shots the team had per time Oliver carried the puck into the offensive zone and per zone entry is the total with dump-in shots included. Averaging about 1 shot per carry-in (107/108) while being successful on two-thirds of his total carry-ins is extremely promising. A lot of work has been done by the stats community to show that carrying the puck in as opposed to a dump and chase style of play leads to far more offensive opportunities. This is one area he clearly excels in and the coaching staff will absolutely love it.
Extra Skater CHL Stats
Now while very encouraging the data above was limited. Luckily there are some more numbers we can look at found here http://www.extraskater.com/chl/players . Let’s start with some rankings of the more standard stats for Bjorkstrand for the entire CHL and its roughly 1200 players and 60 teams:
Those are some pretty great rankings! As an easy comparison he is ahead of first round pick Kerby Rychel in all of those categories except even strength assists and points (tied) and Kerby also had a fantastic season. Something you might be thinking is that maybe Oliver just played a lot more games than everyone else below him. After all he did play in 69 games of a 72 game season. This is where we should look at P/60 or points per 60 minutes of ice time. Using this stat takes out the advantage of more games played by using total ice time to rate point production and Bjorkstrand is ranked 6th overall. While it is only a difference of 0.1 P/60, which is not a lot, it is interesting to note that Bjorkstrand (4.5 P/60) actually ranks ahead of Jonathan Drouin (4.4 P/60) the 3rd overall pick from 2013 even in this category. You would think Drouin would have led based on having one point less at 108 with 23 less games played, but he had an estimated TOI of over 31 minutes a game according to Extra Skater. That is almost 11 more minutes of ice time per game than Bjorkstrand. One final stat that jumps out at me is his EV QoT eTOI%, which is the quality of his teammates for his estimated time on ice at even strength. This would show whether he was just playing with really good players to end up with his goal, assist, and points totals. He actually ranked 9th lowest of the top 50 point getters in the CHL. So he had the 5th most points in the CHL and he had a lot to do with getting them.
While Oliver definitely has an outside chance at making the team out of camp, in all likelihood he will be heading back to the perennial contender Portland Winterhawks. Look for another strong season with an increased role on the team. Also don’t miss the World Junior Championships in December where his native Denmark will play thanks to his help qualifying them last year. Denmark will be going up against Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Switzerland in group B. This should offer a great viewing party of his talents for those not able to follow him closely while playing on the West Coast.