Brought over as a depth piece by the Blue Jackets over the summer, defenseman Marcus Bjork was thrust into the NHL early in November. He would get into 33 games with the team this season, giving them solid minutes when they had a lot of important pieces out of the lineup.
This turned out to be a super important offseason signing by Jarmo Kekalainen. I can only wonder how much worse this team could have been this season, without players like Bjork coming into the lineup when called upon. My best guess is, he would have had to overpay for a defenseman via trade, had we not had Bjork around.
Thank goodness we did. Signed last summer to a one year contract worth $925k at the NHL level, the 25 year old is a four year veteran of the SHL, which I consider to be the second best league in the world. Last season with Brynas IF, he played in 52 games; scoring 3 goals and 15 points. His calm, steady presence caught the attention of the Blue Jackets, who decided to give him a chance to shine in North America.
The compounding injuries in Columbus meant that Bjork got his chance at the NHL level, called up on November 12th. He wasted no time, scoring his first NHL goal in his first game, while skating just over 15 minutes. He stayed with the club into mid-January, then returned to the AHL – only to be called up again for six games in the last two weeks of the season.
He wound up playing 33 games with the Jackets this season, scoring 3 goals and 11 points. But aside from his counting stats, I thought he was a solid player for the team; quietly defending well and using his big shot to generate offensive chances. He didn’t stand out on a lot of nights, but that’s probably a good thing for a defenseman who is just trying to find his niche in the league.
For an NHL rookie, Bjork brought a veteran swagger to the Blue Jackets this season, and there isn’t much more you can ask for out of a guy you signed for nothing other than his cap hit. At 6’4″, he takes up a lot of space on the back end, and was even a regular on the power-play during his time here. He was productive in the AHL as well, meshing nicely with a young and depleted Cleveland Monsters team.
Final season stats: 33 games played, 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, 42 PIMs, -9, 34 shots on goal. Overall grade: B
Bjork isn’t likely going to fit into the long-term plans here. In fact, depth-chart wise, he’s probably around sixth amongst right-hand shot defensemen in the organization. But, this was a smart signing for a young team that needed some depth and experience on the back end. Our expectations weren’t very high, and he went way above and beyond exceeding them. He’s an RFA this summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him brought back for another stay, while the prospects continue to develop. He’s earned the opportunity.