Oliver Bjorkstrand admits he doesn’t have to look far for inspiration in chasing his NHL dream.
Just across town.
Bjorkstrand was born in Herning, Denmark and shares the same hometown as Nick Jensen – selected in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks.
Jensen played for the Herning Blue Fox, as did Bjorkstrand. Jensen took to North America to play for the Kitchener Rangers in his draft season. Bjorkstrand opted for the Portland Winterhawks.
The similarities in the career paths of the two Danes aren’t a coincidence.
“Nicklas Jensen is from my hometown so I look a lot up to him,” Bjorkstrand admitted. “He also went over here. That’s one of the reasons why I also made the move to go over here.”
The comparisons between the five-foot-11, 164-pound Bjorkstrand and the six-foot-three, 186-pound Jensen continue – obvious physical statures aside. Bjorkstrand put up 13 goals and 26 points in his only year with the Blue Fox. Jensen also managed 26 points on the strength of 12 tallies.
Both made similar splashes in North America, too.
In his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League, Jensen scored at a near point-per-game pace. Bjorkstrand, who leads all rookies in scoring in the Western Hockey League, is producing at an identical pace.
Bjorkstrand has managed such early season success despite such a drastic change in georgraphy.
“I think I’m getting used to it now,” he said. “It was a big adjustment coming over here from Europe. It took a little time but it’s getting better.”
Herning head coach and father Todd, as well as linemate and brother Patrick helped that adjustment. It was their help preparing for Portland that also made it more difficult to leave his home country.
“Well, my brother, he went to Sweden so for that reason it wasn’t difficult,” Bjorkstrand said. “Of course it was a little difficult for my dad. Him being my coach last year helped me a lot. I think he wanted me on the team but he wanted me to go over here because I wanted to do that. He was happy for me.”
Which is another Dane of great influence on Bjorkstrand’s National Hockey League dream.
Your father played some hockey in North America early in his career. Were you motivated to follow in his footsteps?
I guess so. He went to college and I went a little different path. I just want to play pro hockey like him.
Do you feel you’ll get more exposure for the 2013 NHL Draft playing in Portland?
Yeah, for sure. A lot more.
Do you feel more pressure playing in front of scouts in North America?
I don’t know if I feel pressure, I just get more motivated to the games because I want to get drafted this year. Every time you hear there’s a scout at the game, you really want to play good. Of course you want to get drafted.
Quite a few drafted players on the Winterhawks surround you. Have you talked to any of the veterans and asked them questions about the draft?
A little bit. I haven’t come to them much yet but I’ll probably ask them a little later.
What are the biggest off-ice adjustments you’ve had to make in Portland?
Probably school. It’s a little different over here so I’m getting used to that.
Your team in the Danish league last year won the championship. What kind of learning experience was that and has it helped you adjust to play in the WHL?
We played playoff games last year so that helped me a lot just knowing what it’s all about and how hard you have to work for it. I learned a lot from last year.
Looking back, did playing in the World Juniors help as well?
Even though we lost every game pretty big, it was still a big experience with how good players are over here and all around the world. (It was) a big experience for me.