Oliver Bjorkstrand was on his honeymoon in South Africa “in the middle of nowhere” and headed back from a late dinner when he saw he’d missed a few calls. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ leading goal-scorer suspected he knew what they were about.
He and Jill would be starting married life in a new city. Bjorkstrand, 27, had been traded to Seattle for a 2023 third-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick, a necessary salary cap-relief move for the Blue Jackets and a significant get for the Kraken in their second year of NHL play.
The Herning, Denmark, native has swapped texts with Kraken center Alexander Wennberg, whom he played with in Columbus for parts of five seasons. But he didn’t want to overload his honeymoon with long calls.
“When I had some time to think about it, I started getting really excited,” Bjorkstrand said.
Bjorkstrand set career highs in goals (28), points (57) and power-play goals (nine) in 2021-22. The winger’s goal and point totals would have led the Kraken.
In 2021, he signed a five-year, $27 million extension with Columbus, the team that drafted him in the third round (89th overall) in 2013. He liked being there and thought the group was on the right track.
“We couldn’t be happier that he will be a Blue Jacket for a very long time,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said at the time.
But just a year and a half later, after two straight postseason misses, the Blue Jackets landed prized free agent Johnny Gaudreau. The price tag on his seven-year deal was about as high as rumored — $68.25 million ($9.75 million AAV).
“I figured somebody had to go,” Bjorkstrand said. “I knew it was a possibility. I don’t think I really thought deeply about it.”
Columbus then brought back forward Patrik Laine on a four-year, $34.8 million contract extension ($8.7 million AAV) the same day Bjorkstrand was traded.
“They had to move out a real good player, and we were fortunate that we were able to put together the deal with them and acquire Oliver,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis told The Seattle Times after the trade. “He’s a real good plus.”
The former Portland Winterhawk is already used to the corner of the country. He enjoyed a productive Western Hockey League career from 2012-2015.
His rookie seasons in the WHL and American Hockey League (AHL) each ended with a trophy handoff. The Winterhawks won the 2013 WHL championship as Bjorkstrand finished with the most goals (31) and points (63) by a rookie. The next season, he had the most playoff goals (16) and points (33) among all players as Portland came close to a repeat, falling in seven games in the final.
“I only have good memories from it,” Bjorkstrand said of his time there. “I’m used to the rain, so it won’t be too much of a shocker for me.”
He was a member of the 2015-16 Calder Cup (AHL) champion Lake Erie Monsters. His 10 postseason goals led the league and he was the playoff MVP.
Bjorkstrand’s first full NHL campaign was two seasons later (11 goals, 29 assists, 82 games). He’s exceeded 20 goals and 40 points in three of five full seasons in the league, all with the Blue Jackets.
Six-foot, 177-pound Bjorkstrand said he saw the possibilities when he studied Seattle’s roster and noted the players the Kraken drafted into the fold. He was an alternate captain in Columbus last season and is able to offer advice, support and a good example to the Kraken’s young players — eventually.
“I’ll try to do the same thing. But I’ve got to find my place too in Seattle and figure out what I am there,” Bjorkstrand said. “We’ll see.
“It looks like the potential is there. I don’t see why we couldn’t be a competitive team when you look at the lineup.”
U.S. Women’s National Team to face Canada at Climate Pledge Arena
Climate Pledge Arena and the Kraken announced Tuesday that Seattle’s home arena will host the first announced game of the 2022-23 rivalry series between the U.S. Women’s National Team and Canada’s on Nov. 20 at 4 p.m. It’s the first time the series has been staged since 2019-20, a five-game event Team USA won 4-1.
The U.S. and Canada have both reached the gold-medal game of every IIHF Women’s World Championship and Olympic game staged, with two exceptions — the 2019 World Championship and the 2006 Olympics. Canada won the 2022 Olympic gold-medal game, 3-2.
Skill clinics, open practices and a ceremonial puck drop at the Kraken home game the night before will surround the event. Game tickets go on sale Aug. 10.