In a perfect world, Anders Bjork would have been eating cake and ice cream out of the Stanley Cup on Monday, his 23rd birthday.
His true-life pro hockey experience has been anything but a fantasy for the Bruins winger, who has spent more days rehabbing from a pair of shoulder surgeries than he has played in NHL games (50). It has been a winding road without a promised end.
Some players only get one shot at the league. Bjork doesn’t believe his has been wasted.
“That’s one thing I’ve been learning is patience,” he said in a telephone conversation last Wednesday, as he drove about two hours south from home in Mequon, Wis., to play in the Chicago Pro Summer League. “You put your work in, be patient, don’t expect results right away. I’ve learned that with my shoulder.”
Bjork, who studied marketing at Notre Dame, jokes that with all he has come to know about the joint, he is building the post-hockey résumé of a physical therapist. “I should have changed my major,” he said. “I’ve definitely learned a lot.” Twin procedures, a Bankart repair in February 2018 and a more involved Latarjet procedure last February, have sidetracked the 2014 fifth-round pick.
Bjork, who put up 21 goals and 52 points in 39 games as a junior before leaving school, scored three goals and six points in his first seven games with the Bruins in October 2017. As he was learning the details of the NHL game, the first-year pro was getting knocked around. His left shoulder was taking the brunt of it.
Bjork was trucked by Toronto forward Matt Martin at center ice in November. In January, a cross-check from Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin ended his season. Last season, he didn’t stick with the varsity, and while playing for AHL Providence Dec. 30 he overextended his shoulder when he was dumped by Hershey forward Nathan Walker.
A winger with Bjork’s speed and hockey sense should be an obvious solution for a Bruins club missing one more top-six marksman. His shoulder makes Bjork little more than a question mark to those in charge.
“He’s missed a lot of hockey, so he has to reclaim his ability to play wherever, in our lineup or work his way into our lineup at some point in time like he was doing last year from Providence,” general manager Don Sweeney said in June. “But he’ll be fine, health-wise.”
After two years of false starts, Bjork feels he’s done all he can to be ready. The notes app on his phone is filled with reminders from his first two seasons: on NHL scoring and defense, the psychology of overcoming injuries, visualization techniques, ways to keep his confidence when he’s not scoring. He became a student again.
“It was tough to watch,” he said. “But I was thinking, ‘What if I was out there, what would I be doing, how can I help this team offensively or be solid defensively?’ ”
Becoming more solid was another focus. At 6 feet, he says he is about the same weight as last year (190 to 195 pounds) but feels more fit.
“I’ve had a lot of time to train,” he said. “I didn’t want to get too heavy and lose any speed, but getting stronger, my upper body for shooting and winning my battles.
“I don’t feel heavy or slowed down at all. I’m pleased with that. My focus now is to maintain that and keep my strength throughout the season. You’ve got to be dedicated to keep the good weight on, because you’re playing a lot of hockey.”
Ideally, for Bjork, that would become his reality again.
“I think there’s opportunity there,” he said. “That’s my mentality: earning my spot, earning my playing time. It’s not going to be easy, I know that, especially with all the prospects and players in Boston’s organization. But that challenge excites me. The competition, you’ve got to love it, because that’s what makes Boston such a good team. You’ve got to embrace it.
“But obviously, not playing since last December, there’s a bit of an unknown. I think I have to have a bit of patience coming in. I want to be excited but not too excited. I want to be solid and focused and ready to go, not like I’m on a high from not playing and running around.
“I want to show the coaches I can be a mature, consistent player for the team. The patience aspect of that is going to be important for me.”
Catching up on Black and Gold
■ As of this writing, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are still unsigned. No movement on the restricted free agent market at large.
■ The Bruins didn’t make a roster move this past week. Not that one was expected. The unsigned, veteran, right-shooting wingers (Justin Williams, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Troy Brouwer, short-time Bruin Drew Stafford) are not exciting enough for a club with several top-nine wing candidates to pay open-market prices. A trade upgrade remains a possibility, though given their cap situation, it’s almost guaranteed Don Sweeney and Co. will wait to see what those in-house have to offer.
■ Though he appears a few years away, the Bruins are loving what first-round pick John Beecher has shown in Team USA’s summer showcase. Beecher, riding as high as the No. 2 center on a split-squad American club, was as of Friday leading the tournament in goals (3-1—4 in two games) and looking like one of the faster forwards on the ice in a Charlie Coyle-type frame (6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds). Beecher, a Michigan freshman-to-be, looks like a candidate for a World Junior spot.
■ On Friday, Beecher and 2018 Bruins fourth-rounder Curtis Hall (Yale) were manning the No. 2 and 3 center positions for Team USA. If their development continues, either or both could arrive in Boston in a few years. Between Coyle (6-3, 220), Sean Kuraly (6-2, 210), Beecher, and Hall (6-3, 200), the Bruins wouldn’t lack size down the middle.
Based on the fact Beecher was taken 30th overall in July, he’s a solid bet to play in the NHL. Considering his draft spot (fourth round, 119th overall in 2018), Hall is less of a sure thing.
The draft went to seven rounds in 2005. Let’s take all those drafts from then until now, excluding 2019 because we can’t have any NHL stats for those players. In that 14-year span, there were 453 first-round picks.
All but 62 played in the NHL, according to Hockey-Reference, but of those, 42 were in the last three drafts. So, in 11 years of recent drafts (2005-15), only 20 first-round picks never reached the show.
What does that speak to? Certainly, that evaluators value high draft picks, who are clearly often more talented, but also they may be more likely to give them extra chances to succeed.
NEW ERA IN MINNESOTA
GM Fenton out, Donato confident
Strange times in Minnesota, where GM Paul Fenton was turfed 14 months after he was hired. Wild beat reporter Michael Russo of The Athletic detailed a long list of missteps in the Fenton era, calling it “death by a thousand cuts,” and profiling the Springfield product (who declined comment for the story) as a wholly dysfunctional boss.
Fenton has a fan in Ryan Donato.
“Fenton was very nice to me,” Donato said Wednesday, before a summer skate in the Foxboro Pro League. “He made me feel comfortable. We’ll see who they hire. It’s a business.”
Donato, the hard-shooting winger from Scituate shipped by the Bruins to the Twin Cities with a conditional fifth-round pick for Charlie Coyle last February, is likely to be one of the pieces the new GM builds around. Whether that’s Ron Hextall, Peter Chiarelli — both reportedly interviewed this past week — or someone else, they’ll have a lot of work to do to lift the middling Wild, who were one-and-done three straight years in the playoffs before last season’s DNQ.
They have Zach Parise (35) and Ryan Suter (34) signed for $7.54 million in each of the next six years, with no-move clauses. While Carolina enjoys the prime years of Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota has Victor Rask, a fourth-liner who doesn’t kill penalties or move the needle offensively, making $4 million over each of the next three years (that one-for-one deal was, to this eye, Fenton’s most questionable move). Before departing, Fenton added Mats Zuccarello, 32, for five years and $30 million. A good player and culture-booster, Zuccarello, but another reason the Wild are $9.4 million shy of the cap with RFA’s Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek to sign.
Fenton did bet on Donato. He signed the former RFA to a two-year, $3.8 million deal before leaving office. As a rookie, Donato registered 15 points in his first 15 games with the Wild. His confidence is high, the shock of the trade long worn off.
“It worked out,” Donato said, making mention of the “Minnesota nice” he’s seen during his summer visits. “The people are awesome there. They’ve welcomed me with open arms.”
Coyle, one of Donato’s summer training pals, was first to call him after the trade. “ ‘If you need anything, let me know,’ ” Donato said Coyle told him. “He knows things about the Minnesota situation that I don’t, and I know things about Boston that he doesn’t.”
Donato’s expected role and season goals will be of no surprise to those who watched him skate 46 games (11-7—18) for his hometown Bruins, or at Harvard, or in the Olympics. He wants to be more than just a shooter, but he sure does love rifling the puck.
“I want to be in the top six, top nine, to score and create offense,” he said. “With opportunity, I can definitely do that. I thought I showed some flashes of it last year. It would have been nice to make the playoffs, obviously. On a personal level, I was happy with my performance. It’s a long season. I was happy that my body held up until the end of the year.”
Lightning tight against the cap
The Lightning, walking a cap tightrope, signed 25-year-old goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to an eight-year, $76 million extension that kicks in at $9.5m per starting in 2020-21. He’ll have the third-highest cap hit of any netminder, behind Carey Price ($10.5 million) and Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million). Tuukka Rask will rank sixth ($7 million), unless Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million) decides to return to Sweden.
Hoping to sign star RFA Brayden Point, Tampa Bay also dumped Ryan Callahan’s $5.8 million on Ottawa. They have a shade over $10 million in cap space for Point, which should be enough. But the belt is tightening.
Next year, when they’ll have Point’s new deal on the books, and the goalie’s extension kicks in, the core — Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Vasilevskiy — will be making more than $62 million combined. Add in Point — $9 million a year? — and Tampa could have seven forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie making north of $70 million.
So what of young blue liner Mikhail Sergachev, sent south from Montreal for Jonathan Drouin while still a prospect? The 21-year-old Russian, with 72 points in his first two seasons, will be an RFA next season. So, too, will forwards Anthony Cirelli (sixth in Calder Trophy voting, 11th in Selke) and Mathieu Joseph. The other pieces in that lineup had better come cheap.
Devils are onto something
The Devils are having the kind of offseason that would leave David Puddy foaming at the mouth. The Jack Hughes sweepstakes winners, weeks after acquiring P.K. Subban, took a flier on KHL star Nikita Gusev. GM Ray Shero paid a 2020 third-rounder and a 2021 second-rounder to Vegas for the rights to a potential top-six, right-shot winger making $4.5 million each of the next two seasons.
The Devils, who have two of the last three No. 1 overall picks, can slot Gusev with Nico Hischier (first overall, 2017) and right wing Kyle Palmieri. A year playing on the top line with Hughes could convince 2017-18 league MVP Taylor Hall to stick around after his contract expires in July. Hard-working Wayne Simmonds is a good bet to rebound from his injuries on a third line with Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac. If they get a few saves from Cory Schneider and MacKenzie Blackwood, they could be a playoff team.
Senators are unrecognizable
When the Senators beat the Bruins in the 2017 playoffs, they felt they were on the rise. Sure, it would be tough to keep Erik Karlsson in a small market, but they had enough young talent to take a few more whacks, and perhaps get their franchise defenseman to commit long term.
Set aside for a moment what happened off the ice, with meddling ownership and locker-room backbiting and Uber confessionals. What transpired since then is, in a purely hockey sense, disheartening.
Some 25 months after their last playoff run, five of the 26 players remain from that team. They traded top-flight forwards Mark Stone (Vegas), Kyle Turris (Nashville), and Mike Hoffman (San Jose, then Florida). Complementary pieces Ryan Dzingel (Columbus, now Carolina) and Derick Brassard (Pittsburgh) left. The defense lost everyone but Mark Borowiecki, trading Karlsson and seeing veterans Dion Phaneuf and Marc Methot walk, trading Chris Wideman and Cody Ceci. Goalie Craig Anderson, though he reportedly requested a trade in June 2018, remains.
More changes are coming. The Senators, who will rebuild around forwards Brady Tkachuk (19), Drake Batherson (21) and Colin White (22), and defenseman Thomas Chabot (22), have one forward (Bobby Ryan) and one defenseman (Nikita Zaitsev) signed beyond 2021. They have $15.325 million tied up in injured reserve, using that to get to the cap floor.
Remember how much fun the 2007 Cup Final was? Two years ago, Ottawa was an OT goal from returning. Now, the Senators are looking for a high draft pick, while trying to erase the memory of their would-be lottery ticket from June. Colorado, after swiping Ottawa’s first-rounder in the Matt Duchene trade, selected quick defenseman Bowen Byram fourth overall.
Tom Kurvers, who spent the first two-plus years of an 11-year career with Montreal, was named the Wild’s interim GM. That move came nearly five months after he revealed his battle with lung cancer. Battle hard, Tom . . . According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, the Bruins had a deal for Eric Staal after the Charlie Coyle-Ryan Donato swap, but Wild GM Paul Fenton instead extended Staal for two years and $6.5 million. Staal (22-30—52 last season), a year removed from a 42-goal season, would have been an excellent rental, perhaps allowing the right-shooting Coyle to shift to a top-six role on the wing. And Fenton, after pocketing an asset from the deal, might have been able to reunite with Staal in free agency . . . Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was bitten on the right hand by his family’s German Shepherd, who was later put down. Ekman-Larsson took four stitches and is expected to be ready for camp . . . Among the 32-team field for the annual Travis Roy Foundation Wiffle ball tournament in Essex., Vt., next weekend: a Boston University squad led by Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Jack Eichel, and Dan O’Regan. There’s also a celebrity team featuring Globe great Bob Ryan. For more information on the event, now in its 18th year, visit TravisRoyFoundation.org.
Arizona State, in its fourth Division 1 season, will this month become the first US college program to play exhibition hockey in China. The Sun Devils return leading goal scorer Johnny Walker from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but lose North Andover-bred goalie Joey Daccord (Ottawa).