Bemstrom Recalled: It’s Time to Make a Decision

Nov 19, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Emil Bemstrom (52) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Emil Bemstrom (52) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Columbus Blue Jackets recalled forward Emil Bemstrom from the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters this morning, opting to demote defenseman Jake Christiansen to add another scoring forward to the roster. Bemstrom has been spectacular in the AHL this season; but at 23 years old he hasn’t yet stuck in the NHL. The time for the team to make a decision with this player is now.

If you’ve followed this team for more than the last couple of years, you know the story by now. Bemstrom, originally a fourth round pick (#117 overall) at the 2017 Draft, was at one point touted as one of the top goal scoring prospects in the world. Hard to believe?

Believe it. In 2018-19, Bemstrom was a rookie in the SHL playing just 13:46 per game – but he scored 23 goals in only 47 games to become the youngest player to ever lead that league in scoring, at just 19 years old. He placed tied for second all-time in goals by a 19 year old in the SHL: alongside Peter Forsberg and Patric Hornqvist.

Nov 19, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Emil Bemstrom (52) scores a goal against Detroit Red Wings goalie Ville Husso (35) during the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Emil Bemstrom (52) scores a goal against Detroit Red Wings goalie Ville Husso (35) during the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports /

His season was so strong that at the 2019 trade deadline, when the Jackets were loading up on Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and others – he was labelled as untouchable by GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Bemstrom certainly looked like a diamond in the rough, a rare mid-round steal for the Blue Jackets … and better yet, he was coming to North America that very next fall.

But unfortunately, things have not worked out for Bemstrom or the Jackets. Through 124 NHL games, he has managed just 21 goals and 19 assists for 40 points. Even when it seemed like he was a lock to make the opening night roster this season due to his waiver requirement, he missed the cut this fall and has spent the bulk of his year in the AHL.

COLUMBUS, OHIO – NOVEMBER 23: Emil Bemstrom #52 of the Columbus Blue Jackets brings the puck to the net against Joel Edmundson #44 of the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at Nationwide Arena on November 23, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OHIO – NOVEMBER 23: Emil Bemstrom #52 of the Columbus Blue Jackets brings the puck to the net against Joel Edmundson #44 of the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at Nationwide Arena on November 23, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

He has done quite well with the Monsters: he sits tied for fifth in the league in scoring with 14 goals and 31 points. He’s tallied those totals in just 21 games – a handful fewer than every other player inside the top-10. We could also argue that in his brief 7-game call-up with the Jackets last month, he was solid – scoring 2 goals and 2 assists, even seeing some time with the top line.

So, what gives? Why hasn’t he stuck in the NHL thus far?

There have been a couple of issues with Bemstrom at the NHL level to this point. First, and probably most importantly: he’s suffered from injury at some very inopportune times. Whenever he seems to be getting a shot higher up in the lineup, something seems to break down.

In the last days of training camp last year he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for almost two months. He was having a strong camp, looked confident and poised to have a strong season, then was forced to start late and never really caught back up.

The second thing that’s killed him so far: confidence. Maybe the injuries are partly to blame here, but we haven’t yet seen him using his best tool consistently enough in the NHL: his shot. Too many times he’s second guessed himself, double clutched, or looked off the shot to try and set up a teammate.

Nov 10, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Emil Bemstrom (52) checks Philadelphia Flyers center Scott Laughton (21) against the boards in the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Emil Bemstrom (52) checks Philadelphia Flyers center Scott Laughton (21) against the boards in the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports /

But even with his offensive struggles, his underlying metrics are actually really good. He’s a hard worker who developed quietly under John Tortorella and has emerged as a quality two-way winger. Even when he isn’t providing offense, he plays away from the puck and doesn’t hurt the team defensively … which is more than we can say for several players who have been kept around the NHL roster for the last couple of years.

At this point, with the injury situation within this organization, it’s time to make a decision on Emil Bemstrom once and for all. With four forwards sitting on the IR list, and a lineup loaded up with AHL players and young rookies, he deserves just as much of a chance as anyone else. The coaching staff should take the reins off of him and let him play confidently.

He’s proven that he’s way too good for the AHL. He’s also proven that he’s capable of at least sticking around the NHL roster in a depth role. If he’s a core piece of this team moving forward, great. It seems like he can be a depth scorer who plays in the bottom six and provides some good two-way minutes. But at the very least, if you keep him in the NHL he becomes a piece you can move at the deadline. He has earned this opportunity.

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