The list of potential players for the Penguins got a little smaller on Tuesday when Karpat from the Finnish hockey league announced they had signed Kasper Bjorkqvist to a two-year contract.
▪️ Lähes valmis kauppatieteiden kandidaatti — Oulun Kärpät (@OulunKarpatFi) June 28, 2022
Tutustu tarkemmin #Kärpät-perheen tuoreimpaan jäseneen, Kasper Björkqvistiin! ➡️ https://t.co/5t51bEN7je pic.twitter.com/BkqGdqGgTp
Bjorkqvist, a 2016 second round pick of Pittsburgh, seemingly ends the North American portion of his hockey playing career on a bit of a down note. It was a star-crossed journey from the beginning, with major injuries limiting him to just six games in the AHL in his rookie season in 2019-20.
With COVID delaying the start of 2020-21, Bjorkqvist remained in Finland playing 44 games with KooKoo before joining the WB/S Penguins for five regular season games.
This past season in 2021-22 was Bjorkqvist’s only real season to get some time in. He played 54 games in Wilkes, but recorded only 8G+4A. According to the Tribune Review, which translated some statements from Bjorkqvist today, he was not satisfied with the amount of time and role he was getting.
“I am not happy with my time at AHL,” Bjorkqvist said. “Even though I was able to do things that made me promoted to the NHL, my game was still not as good there as I would have liked. I feel like I’m a more versatile player than I could be there.
As Bjorkqvist mentioned, he was called up to the NHL a couple of times through this season, though was occasionally a practice squad or healthy scratch. He was able to make his NHL debut in January and scored a goal against San Jose. Bjorkqvist would play five more games in the National, but fail to record another point after that initial goal, playing in very limited fourth line role with minimal opportunities.
As a restricted free agent this summer, Bjorkqvist was on general manager Ron Hextall’s mind to fight for an NHL job next season at the GM’s end of season press conference last month. However, it would have been a very outside chance for a 25-year old prospect who wasn’t able to get much traction in the AHL, let alone become an NHL factor except under the most dire of circumstances for the Penguins.
Bjorkqvist had plenty of competition from forwards younger than him (Sam Poulin, Valtteri Puustinen, Filip Hallander) and had others that were already considered above him on the depth chart (Drew O’Connor, Radim Zohorna). That numbers game already has more candidates than NHL jobs available, and Pittsburgh is also a team that likes to sign lower-line veterans for the fourth line as well (Brian Boyle, Dominik Simon last summer for instance).
All of those factors put the writing clearly on the wall for Bjorkqvist to see that likely would have made next season it another frustrating year mostly, if not entirely, in Northeast Pennsylvania had he returned to the Pens’ organization.
Officially, Pittsburgh can retain Bjorkqvist’s NHL rights by giving him a qualifying offer prior to July 13th NHL free agency. With the player signing a two-year deal in Finland and being uninterested in how things went in the AHL, that outcome could be empty and unnecessary, being as the player has decided to move onto a new chapter of his career somewhere else.