One piece of business remains this summer for Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen – what to do with restricted free agent Emil Bemstrom. Written off by many in the fanbase, it’s easy to sell a player who hasn’t put it all together off as a lost cause. But, if we take a deeper dive into the situation, things aren’t really that simple. This is a talented NHL player who may be on the verge of breaking out.
At one point, Bemstrom was one of the top prospects in the Blue Jacket system. So highly thought of at the all-in 2019 trade deadline, he was more or less labelled as untradeable by Kekalainen, who sent off other prospects and picks in trades, while holding steadfast in keeping Emil in the system.
With good reason – that season in the SHL, Bemstrom scored 23 goals and became the youngest player to ever lead that league in goal scoring, a league considered by many to be the second best in the world. His name is mentioned in the record books alongside NHL greats like Peter Forsberg, Patric Hornqvist, and Elias Pettersson. At that point in time, the argument could be made for Bemstrom as one of the top goal scoring prospects in all of hockey. So what happened?
It’s tough to pinpoint one specific issue. Bemstrom has struggled to remain healthy, suffering long-term injuries in each of the last two seasons. But even when in the lineup, he’s often looked snakebitten and timid. His “ace in the hole” one-timer shot seldom used, and looking fairly pedestrian when unleashed – pointing to a lack of confidence. He’s spent time in the AHL and done fairly well; but at this point is still a big question mark, even on a young Columbus team. In fact, he’s been well passed up by younger prospects, and finds himself even further down the depth chart this summer.
But, it’s not all bad with Emil. His two-way play has been pretty good, all things considered. He’s still only 23 years old; works hard and competes, it’s not a lack of trying. Even his goal scoring numbers aren’t terrible – comparing him to recently traded winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, they have a similar path through their first three seasons in the NHL. While Bemstrom doesn’t have the same point totals, he’s actually been a more efficient shooter than Bjorkstrand was at the start of his career:
Oliver Bjorkstrand: 120GP – 21G – 61P – 243SOG (8.6% shooting percentage)
Emil Bemstrom – 117GP – 19G – 36P – 187SOG (10.1% shooting percentage)
When you take a step back and really pay attention to the former fourth round pick’s overall output, it’s not too bad. Bemstrom is the second most productive player taken outside of the second round of the 2017 Draft (behind Ottawa’s Drake Batherson). His two-way play makes him a quality bottom-six option on most teams in the league, even if he is only producing secondary scoring numbers. Injury woes aside, this is a legitimate NHL player.
A change of scenery could be huge for Emil – but, what would a trade return look like for the Blue Jackets? It wouldn’t be much, my best guess is a mid-late round pick. For this reason, the best option on the table would be giving him a one year contract with a chance to prove himself. He’ll have to battle hard for a roster spot, but if he makes the team and stays healthy, I could see his value going up in a big way, which would be good for both the player and the team.
I don’t expect him to fit into this team’s long-term plans, but selling low on him this summer seems like a bad idea. We’re still fairly recently off of an expansion draft where the team lost William Karlsson. They traded away Anthony Duclair, who broke out in a big way. And most recently, they traded away Oliver Bjorkstrand for pennies on the dollar (just guessing here, but I think that trade will work out pretty well for the Seattle Kraken).
The last thing I want to see is Emil Bemstrom scoring 25 goals with another team next season. He’s produced at every other level, including the international level. While I think it’s a long shot at this point, he’s a talented player who can score goals. If he puts it all together, he still has a bright future ahead.