If Anders Bjork has learned anything from his first three years in the NHL, it’s that every year is a clean slate.
He flashed brilliance as a rookie, endured injuries that altered his trajectory, and floated up and down the Bruins lines. The sense that he’s actually arrived as a player still hasn’t hit him, but his fourth year has a chance to be the breakout the Bruins have been waiting for.
“I’ve learned that you got to prove yourself each year,” Bjork said. “And that’s something that I’ve tried to make a habit of mine is proving myself. You have a lot to prove every single year. And that’s what the best players do.”
Looking at Patrice Bergeron going into his 17th season and holding the captaincy in such high regard or watching Brad Marchand work his way back from offseason surgery for the start of his 12th season, Bjork is surrounded by players who don’t take seasons for granted.
“That’s what [Bergy] does every year,” Bjork said. “He wants to show how good he is. Marchy, that’s why they work so hard. That’s something I’ve learned: You’ve never really made it. You always got to keep improving and have a chip on your shoulder so that guys don’t beat you out and so you can keep improving and make your team better.”
Bjork is coming off the most productive season of his career. Last year, he finished with nine goals and 19 points in 58 games. Shoulder surgeries derailed each of his first two years, but he’s coming into the season healthy with the hopes of taking the next step toward becoming a complete player. He’s increased his weight to about 195 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than his weight coming into the league. That added bulk will be useful.
“I’ve kind of steadily increased these couple of years, trying to you know, gain good strength and strength that can be used on the ice,” he said. “I think being a physical player is important. I think I like both speed and some skill, but only physicality will help enhance that. So that’s something that I’ve tried to develop and something that I’m going to keep focusing on moving forward.”
For Wednesday’s practice, Bjork skated with the fourth line alongside Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. Kuraly said the line is at its best when it plays to Bjork’s strengths.
“Anders is a player that brings skill and speed,” Kuraly said. “We think we can use him really well on getting down ice on the forecheck. When we’re playing our best on the line that I’ve been on is when is we’re skating and everything kind of comes from that.
“So what we’ve been talking about, [between] the three of us and who’s ever been there, it’s been let’s just skate. Let’s get up ice. And Anders does a great job of that. And hopefully, you know, we’ll get in the pocket in some good areas, and you can use his talent to finish some plays.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said that even though he’s starting on the fourth line, Bjork will have chances to move up.
“So he’s never really had that opportunity to truly put up the numbers for a long period of time,” Cassidy said. “Some of that was injury-related, some of that was production-related, some of it was competition-in-our-lineup-related. But at the end of the day, it’s a bit of a here’s where you carve out an identity, and let’s see where it goes from there.”
Bjork will come into the season with something to prove and the unpredictability of the season will offer plenty of opportunities to do just that.
“Overall, I think I’m definitely not, I don’t view myself as an established player,” Bjork said. “That’s my goal is to become one. And I know that mentality of having a chip on my shoulder and something to prove is going to get me to there.”
Cassidy didn’t want to officially address who will be on the taxi squad but confirmed that Greg McKegg, Urho Vaakanainen, and Dan Vladar will travel with the team. Par Lindholm could also land on the taxi squad if he clears waivers. Steven Kampfer was sent home for a family emergency.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.