Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
2021 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Santeri Airola
#24: Jan Drozg
#23: Will Reilly
#22: Clayton Phillips
#21: Chase Yoder
#20: Kirill Tankov
#19: Raivis Ansons
#18: Lukas Svejkovsky
#17: Judd Caulfield
#16: Johnathan Gruden
#15: Kasper Bjorkqvist, Forward
2020 Ranking: #14
Age: 24 (July 10, 1997)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 214 pounds
Acquired Via: NHL Draft (2016, second round)
It’s been quite the unique and unfortunate pro career for Kasper Bjorkqvist. Between a torn ACL early in the 2019-20 season, and the COVID pandemic going on to conspire to have a loan season in 2020-21, Bjorkqvist now finds himself 24 years old and having completed his entry level contract with Pittsburgh that has resulted in a grand total of 11 AHL games.
Next year Bjorkqvist goes into his draft+6 season and still is mostly an unknown quantity from being once a second round pick. And as time slips away, so too looks like the chances of his opportunity to make it to the highest level in the sport.
But the story isn’t over just yet, the Penguins elected to bring Bjorkqvist back to the organization in 2021-22 on a one-year contract. Bjorkqvist may be fortunate that Pittsburgh isn’t exactly stacked with young talent, which allows more room for an extra chance or two along the way.
Bjorkqvist was a member of a fairly limited “black aces” crew in 2021, including Anthony Angello, Drew O’Connor and P.O Joseph, the other three who all played NHL games over the course of the season. Bjorkqvist probably slotted in about as the 20th forward on the team (behind the 12 playing, the three listed above and NHL level healthy scratches like Evan Rodrigues, Sam Lafferty, Mark Jankowski and Radim Zohorna).
Though listed at times as a left and right wing, Bjorkqvist played all his games in Wilkes-Barre last season as a left winger. This could be an issue, as LWs Samuel Poulin and Filip Hallander will enter the organization and possibly/probably Wilkes-Barre that could possibly push Bjorkqvist down the depth chart. If Bjorkqvist has the versatility to flip to the right wing, that could offer him more paths and options to advance in the organization.
Bjorkqvist has good size though, and could be a factor to win what could be multiple open spots on the fourth line next season, though he would be an outside candidate and have to out-shine players like Angello, O’Connor and Sam Lafferty to do so. All of whom the coaches and organization have gotten the chance to know and trust a bit more.
Bjorkqvist scored one goal in the AHL last season, but it was an overtime goal.
“Kasper is an honest, responsible two-way player who is very coachable and understands the game well,” assistant general manager Patrik Allvin said earlier this summer. “We felt that it was important for Kasper to play in Finland last year after his injuries, and he found a lot of success there, which was good for his development. He has all of the intangibles to develop into an NHL player.”
The big question now is how to peg and evaluate that development versus the time lost in the organization to injury/COVID situations. A normal training camp and exhibition schedule this year will be critical for Bjorkqvist. How will he stack up against younger players like Hallander and Poulin? Or more experienced forwards in his age group like Zohorna, O’Connor, Lafferty and Angello? Let alone veterans like Dominik Simon and Evan Rodrigues. Bjorkqvist would probably have to beat out just about all of those players out in order to win a job in the NHL.
Ironically for a 24-year old who has dealt with significant shoulder and knee injuries, it might just be injuries to other forwards on the team that opens up the door at sometime in 2021-22 for Bjorkqvist to advance.
This year will be Bjorkqvist’s last season eligible for the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25, and unfortunately for various circumstances outside of his control, he hasn’t been able to really gain footing in his career. And yet, he still has some promise and the upside to offer more. 2021-22 looks to be a real crossroads of his career with the Pittsburgh organization, with the potential to work his way up to the NHL level, or possibly continue to fizzle out without much of an impact on the ice.
Usually by the age of 24 one can have a pretty good idea of what the “finished product” of a professional hockey player will end up as for his playing career. But Bjorkqvist has been on a very unique career path and it remains very difficult to say with much confidence just what kind of future Bjorkqvist is headed for. He has a lot more variability left compared to most at his age range for just what could lie ahead. Though it is perhaps more likely than not that we don’t know what path or how much Bjorkqvist has developed by this points to an answer itself about a cloudy future.
However, the exciting part is that after so many stops and starts and limited opportunities to play in the pro ranks in America, the waiting game is likely over and we will see very soon this fall and winter if Bjorkqvist is finally able to demonstrate on the ice why several of the player development and minor league coaches are high on his work ethic and ability.