Given that the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural NHL season was marked by a complete lack of offensive firepower – they scored a measly 2.63 goals per game – improvements were in the cards for the league’s 29th-ranked attack.
Besides securing the signatures of several notable free agents, the Kraken were active in the trade market. They swung a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire top-six winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, the franchise’s leader in goals (101) and points (213) since the 2017-18 season.
Since the cost to acquire the 27-year-old forward only amounted to a third- and fourth-round pick in the 2023 Draft, the Kraken can claim the move to be a big win for the organization. Bjorkstrand may not be a flashy superstar, but his stellar two-way profile significantly bolsters Seattle’s hopes of securing the franchise’s first-ever playoff spot in 2022-23. Let’s dive in.
Bjorkstrand Boasts Underrated Offensive Profile
Despite lacking the brand-name value of some of the league’s biggest stars, Bjorkstrand is an underrated offensive talent. The following table presents his results in a number of individual offensive metrics at 5v5 since 2019-20, along with his rank among qualified forwards (minimum 1000 minutes).
For reference, a first-line rate in the NHL would be considered ranking within the top-96 of forwards (three forward positions times 32 NHL teams). Per-60-minute rates help adjust for usage, but some players see eye-popping numbers due to less frequent ice time and favorable deployment (against weaker competition or with talented linemates). Calder Trophy finalist Michael Bunting of the Toronto Maple Leafs ranks seventh in 5v5 points per-60 since 2019, who, despite being a good player and perfect complementary piece for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, is not at that same elite level.
|Statistic (Per-60-Minutes)||Bjorkstrand||NHL Rank|
Back to Bjorkstrand, you can see he is a prolific even-strength goal scorer who fires shots on net without abandon. According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data, the Danish winger also ranked third on the Blue Jackets in primary shot assists per-60, referring to the final completed pass before a shot is taken.
Bjorkstrand is one of the league’s best at creating chances off of the forecheck and cycle but perhaps more valuable to the Kraken is his ability to create looks through incisive neutral zone play. He facilitates an above-average rate of controlled zone entries (i.e., with possession of the puck) but finds himself firmly in the upper echelon of forwards in terms of turning clean entries into scoring chances.
With nearly 4.5 such entries per-60, Bjorkstrand finds himself in the company of Nazem Kadri, Kirill Kaprizov, and Artemi Panarin, to name a few notable neighbors. The Kraken ranked in the bottom-third of teams in terms of creating shots off of the rush, so he should help improve those results.
Although the Kraken did well to inject some scoring into what was frequently a limp attack last season, they still don’t crack the NHL’s elite in that regard, suppressing Bjorkstrand’s scoring totals to an extent. Regardless, his infectious attitude and dedication to responsible play should prove to be a boon for a squad desperately hoping for a significant improvement in 2022-23.
Bjorkstrand Is a Two-Way Star
If the Kraken intend to run its franchise cornerstones in Shane Wright and Matty Beniers down the middle next season, the young pair will need some veteran insulation. Apart from being a reliable offensive creator, Bjorkstrand successfully exerts his will on the defensive side of the puck, completing the 50 takeaways at 5v5 last season, 15th in the NHL.
His raw 5v5 possession numbers aren’t pristine in the same vein as, say, Patrice Bergeron, but for being the leader on a weak Blue Jackets team, they’re respectable. For what it’s worth, he’s been above 50% for most of his Columbus tenure and posted strong relative numbers compared to how the team performs when he is off the ice – for example, Columbus collected 3.2% more of the taken shots when he was on the ice.
|Statistic||Bjorkstrand – Raw||Bjorkstrand – Relative|
Driving his efforts on the defensive end is his tenacious forechecking. Not only did his 8.97 pressures per-60 lead the Blue Jackets, but he ranked ninth among all forwards, with some of those ahead of him playing very few NHL minutes last season. His success rate wasn’t as good but still graded out as above average, but it’s encouraging that he’s shown such a willingness to harass those trying to exit the zone. Interestingly, forechecking was a strength of the Kraken’s last season, with their 33.2% dump-in recovery rate ranking eighth in the NHL according to Sznajder’s data.
Relatedly, Bjorkstrand also led all Blue Jackets forwards in terms of how often he facilitated successful defensive zone exits after collecting the puck in his own end. His 6.93 retrievals leading to exits per-60 sit within the top 25 of forwards, demonstrating how comfortable he is with the puck on his stick.
Where Does Bjorkstrand Fit With the Kraken?
Given his standing with the Blue Jackets (led forwards in cumulative 5v5 ice time) and that his 28 goals and 57 points would both lead the Kraken last year, a top-line role seems set in stone. A line consisting of him, two-way pivot Yanni Gourde and Jaden Schwartz could be a feisty trio capable of putting the puck in the net. Another fit would be – as I mentioned earlier – skating alongside one of Wright or Beniers, operating as a defensive anchor as the two acclimate to NHL life.
A starring role on the power play should be forthcoming, but Bjorkstrand could skip out on penalty kill duty, rarely being used there in Columbus despite his defensive stature. Regardless of where he ends up, his presence should shore up the Kraken’s efforts at both ends of the ice. A stagnant Pacific Division coupled with the injection of some talented new blood gives Seattle a puncher’s chance at the postseason in their sophomore campaign – is this the year?