The second day of the draft will see a few players that weren't drafted last year despite being eligible get their names called. Kasper Bjorkqvist, a winger from Finland whose college bound, is likely to be one of these players. Let's take a look at his game and why he is back in the draft conversation after being passed over last year.
Who is Kasper Bjorkqvist?
Kasper Bjorkqvist was born on July 10, 1997 thus making this his second year of draft eligibility at 18 years old. The 6'1, 198 lbs. winger comes from Espoo, Finland where he came up through the youth and junior ranks with the Espoo Blues. As you can see from his stats below courtesy of Elite Prospects, Bjorkqvist has appeared at the U16, U18, and U20 levels for his club as well as the U16, U17, U18, U19, and U20 levels for Finland on the international stage. Bjorkqvist is committed to Providence College for next season, choosing the Friars over UMass Lowell and UConn.
That's a lot of lines and numbers to take in so let's try to break it down. We can see that he excelled for the Blues U16 team in 2012-13 as a 15 year old with 33 points in 16 games, giving him the best points per game rate on the team. He actually spent more regular season time with the U18 team that season with 14 points in 22 games. In 2013-14, Bjorkqvist managed to put up a point per game for the U18 side and also made his U20 debut with 7 points in 17 games. He spent his first draft eligible year in 2014-15 with the U20 team and he put up 30 points in 34 games. This past season he continued to play for the U20 team to retain his college eligibility and as expected, put up 66 points in 45 games as the team's leading scorer. According to Elite Prospects, he won the Jr. A SM-liiga awards for Best Forward and Best Player.
Bjorkqvist also has a lot of international experience for Finland. He put up 6 points in 8 games at the U16 level in 2012-13. Across all competitions in 2013-14 he managed 4 points in 14 games for the U17 team. The following year he captained the U18 team at the World Championships to a Silver Medal. This past season he appeared at the U19 and U20 levels, winning a Gold Medal as a role player at the World Junior Championships.
Where is Bjorkqvist Ranked?
Bjorkqvist ended up being ranked 22nd among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting after being 35th on the midterm list. Hockey Prospectus just ranked Bjorkqvist 116th overall. The Draft Analyst has him ranked all the way down at 218th overall.
What Others Say About Kasper Bjorkqvist
Miika Arponen of Hockey Prospectus provides this recent scouting report on Bjorkqvist. It examines his skating, shooting, puck skills, smarts, and physical play:
Björkqvist is a strong skater with good speed. He is not very agile or skilled skater, but it can’t be considered a weakness either. Björkqvist has a decent shot that he likes to use often. He is especially strong near the crease and can shoot quickly from tight spaces. Björkqvist is not known to have very smooth hands, but he can handle the puck relatively well at high speeds. Defensive plays and shorthanded situations are the ones where Björkqvist’s smarts really show. He is very good positionally playing PK and can often create turnovers and break passes. His offensive vision is actually quite good, although it is sometimes a bit underrated. The physical game is Björkqvist’s bread and butter. He is strong and knows how to use his body. He can throw heavy hits and won’t turn away from contact.
It doesn't seem like we can expect Bjorkqvist to develop into much offensively. Based on this report it seems like his skating and puck skills are ok and that he gets most of his goals from cleaning up rebounds in front of the net. I am encouraged to read that he is responsible defensively and an asset on the PK. That could go a long way into him carving out a role in the pro game one day.
Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst had this to say about Bjorkqvist when he had him being selected in the 6th round of his mock draft:
Finland likely doesn’t win gold at the WJC without an under-appreciated bottom six and penalty kill that the overage Bjorkqvist contributed to mightily. He plays a heavy, inside game thanks to a pro build (6’1, 200) and acute understanding of play development. His eye-popping stats in Finland’s junior circuit (28 goals and 66 points in 45 games) have more to do with his size/strength advantage than anything else, as most of his points come via hard work and taking advantage of an opponent’s weakness. Bjorqvist may seem like a plugger, but he thinks things through shift after shift, and he takes excellent routes to the puck. Both his shot and skating are slightly above average, but he’s shown the ability to shift gears towards the cage and dance around unassuming opponents.
For what Bjorkqvist lacks in offensive talent, he definitely seems to make up for it with a strong defensive game and great work ethic. It's not surprising to read that his strong point totals in the Finnish junior league has a lot to do with his size. Still, it seems like he has the makings as a bottom 6 guy that can contribute on the PK.
Tony Piscotta of Hockeys Future praised Bjorkqvist's size and strength back in February:
Kasper Bjorkqvist has added size and strength to his frame and continues to be a dominant scorer in the A Junior league.
Not selected in the 2015 draft in his first year of draft eligibility, Bjorkqvist skated for Finland’s U20 team in the WJC and was effective playing on a lower line with Florida Panthers‘ prospect Juho Lammikko.
While his offensive numbers may be a bit inflated playing in the domestic junior league — he scored one goal with one assist in seven games for Team Finland — Bjorkqvist’s combination of size, speed and a willingness to compete all over the ice suggest there is some pro potential.
This seems to echo the other reports of Bjorkqvist's value lying in his defensive game and work ethic so at least we know he's consistent.
A Little Video
Most of the videos out there are interviews with Bjorkqvist. I was able to track down some highlights. The video below has his goal from the WJC around the 13:28 mark. Look from #12 in blue as he gets himself to the front of the net to deflect the puck past the goaltender. It does seem that on offense, he loves to use his size and tenacity to get to the net.
An Opinion of Sorts
There are a few things that I like about Bjorkqvist. First, he seems to have a great work ethic and embraces doing the little things and physical work that often goes unnoticed to help the team. Secondly, his defensive game is apparently strong according to multiple reports and he has earned plenty of praise for his PK ability. Finally, he has a solid frame and seems to know how to use it. With all that said, Bjorkqvist isn't someone that I'm hoping the Devils select. I'd rather they select a first year eligible player with a bit more upside. Sure, a player like that in the latter rounds will have plenty of holes in their game. Plus, the odds will be against them just like Bjorkqvist, but I'd still rather see them try to take a chance on a guy with a bit more offensive talent. Regardless, Bjorkqvist will have plenty of time to futher develop his game in college and it should be interesting to see how that goes.
How do you feel about taking a player that has already been passed over once? Do you think Bjorkqvist's game profiles high enough to warrant a selection? If so, what round? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!