When new Kraken forward Oliver Bjorkstrand peeked at his phone late one night on his recent honeymoon in South Africa, I have noticed a “few missed calls.” He decided it best to answer them even as he and his wife from him fully intended to unplug from everyday life during the trip.
“There’s a little bit of a time difference [compared to Columbus and Seattle],” said Bjorkstrand Tuesday during his first media conference since he was traded from the Eastern time-zone Blue Jackets to the Pacific time-zone Kraken. “It was in the middle of nowhere … figured I’d have to call back and hear what it was. I kind of figured what the phone call was about.”
The news didn’t sink in immediately for Columbus’ leading goal scorer last season. He scored a career-best 28 goals in the first year of a new five-year contract.
“When I had some time to think about it, I started getting really excited about it,” said Bjorkstrand, who said he “started thinking about being a part of getting together a winning culture” as the Kraken aspire to an improved record and playoff contention in their second season.
Video: Media Avail.: Oliver Bjorkstrand
The mission of a winning culture gained momentum this summer in moves by Kraken GM Ron Francis and his hockey operations group. Joining Bjorkstrand as new guys in the locker room and part of Tuesday’s meet-up are defenseman Michael Kempny and goaltender Martin Jones.
Kempny won a Stanley Cup in 2018 as a top-pair defenseman with the Washington Capitals, coming over in a midseason trade to partner with perennial NHL all-star John Carlson. Jones is widely credited with being the major reason why the San Jose Sharks were Cup finalists in 2016 and his playoffs stats include a 32-27 record, 2.37 goals against average and .917 save percentage in 60 postseason games.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” said Kempny, who lost the entire 2020-21 season to three separate left leg injuries and split time between the NHL and AHL last year before winning a bronze medal with his native Czechia national team at the recent International Ice Hockey World Championships in Finland.
“I’m excited to join the Seattle training camp. I’m doing everything I can to be ready and prepared to start a season.”
Video: Media Availability: Michal Kempny
Kempny’s stellar play alongside Carlson is a positive harbinger for Kraken fans and the potential to support a more offensively-inclined defenseman on the Seattle roster.
“Playing with Johnny, you know he’s a great player,” said Kempny, 31, who has played 247 regular season games and 30 postseason games over five NHL seasons after impressive years in Czechia’s top pro league. “I learned a lot from him. And I always like to play with offensively-skilled players. I’m more of a stay-at-home defenseman… we’ll see who I get paired up with in Seattle. I really have liked playing with the offensive guys.”
Per offensive production, Bjorkstrand’s career highs in goals, assists and points didn’t completely satisfy the 27-year-old right wing from Denmark. “Points wise, scoring wise, I had a good season, but I was not too happy about my plus-minus [a negative-35 rating, a stat representing goals against subtracted from goals for when a player is on the ice.]”
“It’s something I want to straighten out. I think there are small areas around the game that I can improve. It’s the small little details of playing a 200-foot game by coming back in the [defensive] zone. You know, not putting the brakes on, but to keep on skating.”
Video: Media Availability: Martin Jones
Bjorkstand said he thinks playing more “defensively all over the ice” can help him win back pucks to set up his own renowned shot (teammates and opponents rave about his release]and/or feed teammates for a scoring chance. Somewhere, Kraken coach Dave Hakstol will be smiling when he reads or hears his new right wing’s remarks.
At the same World Championships in which Kempny won bronze, Kraken goalie chris driedger was manning the nets for Canada in the gold-medal game, prospering in a tight contest before a knee injury knocked him out of the game and host Finland bettered Canada with an overtime win. Driedger’s potential return to play is staked somewhere between January and March to afford full recovery of the knee’s range of motion and durability.
Enter Jones, who appeared in 35 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season, notching a 12-18 record for a team that finished with a 25-46-11 mark. He enjoyed strong stretches of play last year, no doubt providing the Kraken front office and new goalie coach Steve Briere for reasons to be hopeful that Jones can build on those successes and form a solid tandem with Philipp Grubauer.
Jones said “there’s technical stuff” he is working on this summer but chose not to get into detail while allowing it will fortify his efforts this season.
“There’s stuff I’ve been working on the last few years, some structural stuff,” said Jones, who is a North Vancouver native happy to be a two-hour drive from extended family. “I thought last year it was a trying year obviously for our team, but I think I took a lot of good steps forward. I think I’m real close to getting back to having some seasons I had early in San Jose. It’s been a good summer for me. I feel like I’m ready to go and look forward to the season.”
The 32-year-old Jones won a Stanley Cup with Los Angeles in 2014, while Grubauer won his with Washington in 2018. The postseason was on his mind Tuesday when asked about his expectations for himself and his new Kraken teammates.
“We’re trying to make the playoffs,” Jones said. “I’m gonna push as hard as I can to play and you know, I think to push Phil as hard as I can. I think goalies are at their best when they’re both pushing each other and have that kind of competitive relationship .”