The Bruins made a reasonable bet on a young player’s potential Wednesday, signing winger Anders Bjork to a three-year, $4.8 million contract extension.
General manager Don Sweeney, who put Bjork on the books for $1.6 million annually, likes how Bjork rounded out his game this season, playing a dependable top-9 forward and seeing some secondary minutes on the penalty kill. He has not stuck as a top-six winger, but he is trending upward.
“He’s got to find the confidence at the NHL level to be able to score and finish,” Sweeney said of Bjork, who turns 24 next Wednesday. “And if not, he’s going to be a really good two-way hockey player that has speed and versatility. We still hope and feel he will produce.”
Bjork’s deal runs through 2023, when the Bruins will need to re-sign David Pastrnak to a third contract. If Bjork has his hand out for top-six dollars by ’23, he will have shown the flash that made him a go-to player at Notre Dame (85 points in 87 games over three seasons) and with AHL Providence.
Bjork, speaking over the phone, said his confidence has “grown a bit, for sure, but I’m a long ways away from where I want to be,” he said. “It doesn’t happen right away for every player that becomes a scorer in the league.”
The Bruins see this year’s totals — 9-10-19 in 58 games — as something to build on, considering he proved himself to be past the pair of shoulder injuries and concussion that wrecked his first two pro seasons. He played in 58 of the Bruins’ 70 games, riding mostly on the third line and filling a secondary role on the No. 2 power play and penalty kill.
Sunday’s round-robin game against the Flyers will be the first taste of postseason action for Bjork, who has missed out on 36 playoff games and five rounds in the last two years.
He said his family and his agent, Brian Bartlett, wanted to get a deal done now to “focus on playing,” not worrying about his future.
“The injuries were a big learning experience for me. I’m proud to be able to take this next step,” he said. “I said thank you to a lot of people, but I’m saying thank you for their belief in me. I hope it pays off for them. That’s what I want, to be even better than they expect me to be.”
Slotting in Pasta
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said he expects to slot Pastrnak atop his lineup card in Thursday’s exhibition game against the Blue Jackets, though he added he hadn’t written his name in pen.
“The line looked good, again,” Cassidy said after Wednesday’s practice, when Pastrnak skated for a second day in a row next to old mates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
“I think he wants to play, he’s ready to play. I just want to make sure we’re not rushing it. At the end of the day, I suspect he’ll play … that’s the way we’re leaning.”
The Bruins’ leading scorer (48 goals, 95 points in 70 games) said Tuesday he was off the ice for a full 28 days because of quarantine, following exposure to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. He missed all of his team’s Phase 3 practices at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton.
His linemates like what they’ve seen this week.
“He’s looking good,” Bergeron said. “We have some catching up to do — to catch up to him.”
The Bruins, Sweeney said in his call, hope to have winger Ondrej Kase back with the team “in short order.” He was not more specific.
Kase is the only Bruin on the team’s playoff roster of 31 who is not with the team. He will have to quarantine for at least four days upon arriving in Toronto
Coyle is your 7th Player
The Seventh Player Award is staying South of Boston. Or more accurately, the Seaport.
Following his close pal Chris Wagner, who earned it last year, Charlie Coyle was the Bruin chosen for NESN’s end-of-year award.
Both Coyle, who grew up in Weymouth, and the Walpole-raised Wagner live near several of their teammates in the Seaport.
The winner of the award, presented to the player who exceeds fan expectation, is chosen by an online vote at NESN.com.
“I used to be one of these fans,” Coyle said on NESN. “I’ve seen it first-hand, up in the nosebleeds, what it’s like just around the city, out in the suburbs, how muh this team and this organization really means to them . . . You want to play hard for them.”
Coyle, dealt here by Minnesota in the Ryan Donato swap two Februarys ago, became a mainstay in his first full season playing for his hometown club. Coyle put up 16 goals and 37 points in 70 games, the second-best goals per game and third-best points per game rates of his eight-year career.
In November, Coyle, 28, signed a six-year contract extension that keeps him here through 2026. He will earn $5.25 million a season, a bump of $2.05 million from the five-year deal he signed with the Wild in 2014.
Extras on the wing
Teams are permitted to dress two extra skaters for the exhibition game. Cassidy did not reveal his choices, but Wednesday’s practice lineup had Jack Studnicka filling the No. 2 right wing, and Bjork and Karson Kuhlman rotating as the No. 3 right wing. It would make sense for Cassidy to dress Kuhlman as the “extra,” working him onto the second and third lines. An extra defenseman might be Connor Clifton or John Moore, substituting for Jeremy Lauzon on the third-pair right D … Cassidy expects to try to keep his forwards under 16 minutes of ice time against Columbus.