BOSTON (CBS) – The Bruins don’t have to look further than Anders Bjork for an endorsement of their professionalism and their handling of prospects.
Bjork, the Bruins’ fifth-round pick (146th overall) in 2014, officially left Notre Dame after his junior season and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Bruins on Tuesday.
There were worries that Bjork would return to school and then test free agency next summer, much the way Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey spurned Nashville and Buffalo last summer to sign with the New York Rangers. Losing a player who had 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) in 39 games for the Irish would have reflected poorly on an organization that’s trying to build around high-end prospects in the aftermath of their poor handling of and decision to part ways with younger skill players like Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton in recent years.
In an exclusive phone chat with me, Bjork made it sound like the Bruins had nothing to worry about because they said and did all the right things.
“I honestly didn’t think about that at all,” Bjork said. “I kind of just focused on if I wanted to sign or if I wanted to play another year of college hockey. Since I’ve been drafted by the Bruins I’ve been nothing but happy with everything, every interaction that I’ve had with them and everything about the organization, and been really impressed actually how much they care about their prospects and look out for what’s best for them, which really impressed me and made me want to be a part of that organization. So I’m extremely excited to officially be [with the Bruins].”
Bjork said he made his decision to leave school shortly after returning from playing in five games for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship in Europe. In the weeks since his season ended he had weighed going back to school, getting his degree and challenging for a national championship vs. competing for a spot on the Bruins’ roster. He said seeing how his game matched up with pros in practices and the little bit he played in the games at Worlds influenced him.
He was also wooed by the Bruins, within NCAA rules, and their devotion to him regardless of his decision.
“They were completely supportive,” Bjork told me. “They told me what they felt about me as a player and that they felt that leaving school would be best for my career and that it was time, it would be very beneficial to start my pro career. But they told me they understand how important getting a college degree is and the benefits of playing college hockey and stuff like that. So they were completely supportive either way, which was all very helpful and made me feel definitely cared about by the organization. They approached it very professionally.”
By signing Bjork the Bruins avoided a headache next summer and increased their roster flexibility by adding a left-shot wing that can compete for a NHL job in the fall and free up other players for potential trades as they search for help on defense and at center. Bjork may not be guaranteed to make an impact in the NHL the way he did in college right away, but the Bruins are going to give him a shot.
“I’ve talked to them a little bit about that and they think there’s obviously a lot of opportunity,” Bjork said. “They just told me to train hard this summer and keep working on strengthening your body and just all the little things that help pro hockey players be so good and reach the NHL, just little things like that. They just said you have a good opportunity if you work hard and play the right way when you get to camp. So that was good to hear and they said good things.”
The Bruins told Bjork “good things” but if signing Bjork was the best news of the day, his praise for the organization was a close second. Add together Bjork’s praise, Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s decisions to leave Boston University, and forward David Pastrnak’s unending praise of the Bruins (so far) as he looks for his second contract, and you have the recipe to accelerate general manager Don Sweeney’s plan to make the Bruins a contender again. And you have clear signs the Bruins are re-emerging as a destination, which will be great for signing potential free agents, from the pro and amateur ranks, going forward.