Yesterday we took a look at the three worst draft picks ever made by the Columbus Blue Jackets, all of whom were first round choices. While it’s important to strike it rich with high draft picks, it’s arguably more important to find hidden gems in the later rounds of the draft. Unfortunately for the club, those success stories are somewhat scarce, but one of those players lands on our list here.
As with our “worst” list, we’ll look at drafts occurring only before 2017. There have been several success stories since then and it looks to be improving; my guess is if we redo this list in two or three years, we may have to weed through several more draft success stories to find our revised list. The team is heading for a bright future, and strong drafting is at the core of that success curve. For this list, one of the biggest things I took into consideration was success in Columbus. This somewhat writes off players like Jakub Voracek and Mark Methot, who spent the prime of his careers elsewhere. Let’s take a look at the three players and how I ranked them:
Oliver Bjorkstrand, 3rd round (#89 overall), 2013 NHL Draft
Heading into the 2013 Draft with a gutted NHL roster and thin prospects pool, recently hired GM Jarmo Kekalainen had a decent stockpile of picks, including three first rounders. After securing three players targeted higher on their list, Jarmo found a trade partner for his own second round pick – sending selection #44 (Tristan Jarry) to the Pittsburgh Penguins, in exchange for picks #50 and #89. While pick #50 (Dillon Heatherington) didn’t pan out as planned, that 89th selection became a key NHL player: Oliver Bjorkstrand.
That Bjorkstrand was available late in the third round is surprising. He was coming off of a 31 goal, 63 point season in 65 games for Portland (WHL), his first in North America. Despite being undersized, he showed a drive and willingness to play physical hockey in the toughest areas of the ice. And his shot was NHL ready, even as a 17 year old, his quick release allowing him to torment opposing goaltenders seemingly at will, and with no windup.
His production only improved post draft, as he would go on to score another 113 goals in the Western Hockey League over the next two seasons, including 63 in just 59 games in 2014-15. Bjorkstrand went pro the next season and was instrumental in helping the Cleveland Monsters (AHL) win the 2016 Calder Cup. Though he struggled to find his footing in the NHL until the 2017-18 season, he remained a productive player wherever he went, while working on the two-way aspect of his game.
Fast-forward to 2021-22 and Oliver Bjorkstrand is a mainstay in Columbus, signed for four more seasons and wearing an “A” on his jersey. He has become a top-six forward for the Blue Jackets; already with 111 career NHL goals and 234 points in 382 games. Should he remain in Central Ohio for his entire career, it’s quite likely that he will be amongst the team’s all-time leaders in several categories. Not bad for a guy selected in the late third round.