The ups and downs of a rookie season are rites of passage for NHL players, and Bruins right winger Anders Bjork is no exception.
A hard hit to the head from Toronto’s Matt Martin Nov. 11 was the first down for the speedy 21-year-old. Sitting out for the next seven games was next.
Even when cleared to play, jumping back into an NHL lineup isn’t easy on the body or the brain. Learning how to fight back to full-strength has been Bjork’s latest lesson.
Since his return to the lineup on Dec. 2, Bjork has only put up one point – a goal vs. the struggling Arizona Coyotes – through six games. Compare that to nine points (three goals, six assists) in his first 16 games, and it’s clear that he hasn’t been the same player.
Bjork’s 6:47 TOI and 11 shifts in Thursday’s 5-3 loss to the Capitals were both season lows.
“This league has different levels as you go along, it’s tough enough for the young guys when they’re healthy…this is another level and he’s going to have to catch up,” Bruce Cassidy said about Bjork. “It [rookie adjustment period] happens to a lot of guys… it’s a good test. We saw it with [Danton] Heinen last year and he kind of had to figure it out…That’s where Anders is right now and he’s got to fight his way through it.”
Heinen made the Bruins out of training camp last season, and after going pointless through his first eight games, he was sent to Providence for the rest of the season. Back in the NHL with 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) and a plus-three in 25 games, letting Heinen develop in the AHL was clearly the right decision.
After Friday’s practice, Cassidy said he thinks “it’s time” for Ryan Spooner’s return to the lineup with an official decision coming tomorrow, meaning Bjork will likely be scratched for Saturday’s game against the Rangers.
Could the Bruins implement a similar strategy they used for Heinen’s development with Bjork?
The 2014 fifth-round pick has exceeded initial expectations, but some patience and experience can only benefit the Bruins in the long term – especially with Spooner’s impending return. So long as both parties have an understanding that an AHL assignment wouldn’t be forever, it could work as a route back to the confidence and speed essential to Bjork’s game.
At the very least, maybe some time in the press box will be Bjork’s next lesson.