Photo: Erica Perreaux/Lethbridge Hurricanes
We continue our annual prospect review and forecast series with Garin Bjorklund, goaltender for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League (WHL). (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page in the top menu or right here.)
Bjorklund, a 6’-2”, 180lb goaltender from Grande Priaire, Alberta, was drafted by the Capitals in the sixth round (#179 overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Bjorklund, 20, was signed by the Capitals on April 29, 2022 to a three-year, $843,000 per season entry-level deal.
In the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, Bjorklund played for the Calgary Buffaloes in the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL) at the Midget AAA level.
Bjorklund played for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League (WHL) for the tail end of the 2018-19 season and the 2019-20 season. He was the backup goalie for the team and in 28 games, posting 20-5-1 record, a 2.91 goals against average, and a save percentage of .897.
Despite being a backup, Bjorklund was rated as one of the Top 5 North American goalies in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings. He shared the net with 19-year-old Mads Sogaard, whom the Ottawa Senators drafted in the second round in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Bjorklund spoke about Sogaard, “Having him as a good buddy, a role model and someone to look up to, I think that definitely helped me with my rookie season. Watching him go through all this last year definitely helped me this year, showed me what I needed to get better on and helped me to keep pushing. My goal was to get drafted, and hopefully I can do that.”
In the 2020-21 season, Bjorklund went 10-7-1 with a 2.60 Goals-Against Average and a .921 Save Percentage for Medicine Hat, and was ultimately drafted by the Capitals.
Bjorklund wrapped up a tough 2021-22 season with Medicine Hat going 8-36-2 with a 4.26 goals against average and a .877 save percentage. Again, on a very bad Medicine Hat Tigers team.
Bjorklund joined teammate Dru Krebs in reporting to Hershey following the conclusion of Medicine Hat’s season on Friday April 15. Both Bjorklund and Krebs signed amateur tryout agreements with the Bears. The change in scenery went well for Bjorklund, ultimately signing a three-year, $843,000 per season entry-level deal with the Capitals on April 29.
2021-2022 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Garin Bjorklund during the 2021-2022 season. You can find all of our monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu.
Bjorklund did not participate in the Capitals prospect camp at the end of September but did participate in the Capitals main training camp before returning to Medicine Hat on September 28.
Bjorklund and the Medicine Hat Tigers got off to a sluggish start, but in his third start of the season he stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced, improving his record to 1-2 with a 2.28 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. “To get a win over a good team like Edmonton, it’s pretty exciting and the boys are pretty fired up,” Bjorklund said following the game.
In the end, the month was a tough one for Bjorklund. He finished the month of October 2-4-1-0 with a 3.36 GAA and a .890 save percentage. Medicine Hat is 4-5-1-1 on the season.
Bjorklund and the Medicine Hat Tigers slumped in November. The 19-year-old struggled during the Tigers 12-game losing streak, dropping four straight starts to start the month.
He said he’s just taking it day by day until things turn around. “Just have to take it day by day, focus on each and every shot, period by period, and hopefully things start to take a turn for ya,” Bjorklund said. “Just stay positive, help the younger guys and just do what I can to help the team find a way to win.”
Bjorklund stopped 28 of 32 shots between the pipes for the Tigers, but made a number of highlight reel saves in a loss to the Winnipeg ICE on November 20. The loss extended the Tigers losing streak to nine games.
Bjorklund struggled in his next start on November 23 as well. He was doing ok, giving up only three tallies into the third period, but gave up two late goals, one a power play goal, giving up five goals in total on 34 shots. The Tigers would lose their 10th straight game.
Bjorklund and Medicine Hat would get shelled again in Bjorklund’s final start of the month on November 27th. He gave up seven goals on 44 shots shots, as Medicine Hat extended their losing streak to 12 games.
Bjorklund started seven games, gave up 28 goals on 218 shots for a .871 save percentage in November. For the season Bjorklund is 2-8-0 3.83 GAA with a .881 save percentage.
We watched four of his games in the month of November, and at times it’s been difficult to ascertain the level of Bjorklund’s play. There are goals allowed that would be considered soft, but the lack of a solid defense in front of him leaves some uncertainty. He has shown some signs of mechanical breakdowns, but for the most part he has been relatively calm in the crease and somewhat solid on his positioning and angles to the shot. December will tell us much more.
Bjorklund and Medicine Hat continued their long losing streak into December. Bjorklund stopped 33 of 37 shots he faced in his first game of the month in a loss to Brandon on December 3. He stopped 35 of 38 in his next start on December 8.
The Tigers 16-game losing streak finally came to an end on December 11. Bjorklund kept the Tigers in it for much of the game earning his first victory since October 19 with a 32-save showing.
After the game, the 19-year-old celebrated by dramatically ‘reeling in the win’ with his stick. When asked about the big celebration, Bjorklund said he talked about it pre-game with his brother, whose birthday was that day and had flown from school in Montreal to watch him play. “The last shooter he said, ‘reel it in,’ and he got it on video of me reeling it in so it’s pretty cool,” Bjorklund said.
The netminder said it was long overdue and hopes it can be a fresh start for the Tigers. “I feel like we have been battling for that win for a while now and it’s nice for that unfortunate losing streak to be gone,” Bjorklund said.
Bjorklund stopped 28 of 32 shots faced in his next start on December 18. After a 10-day break, Bjorklund stopped 37 of 39 shots faced in his next start on December 28 against the Calgary Hitmen. Bjorklund followed that up by stopping 41 of 43 shots faced in his final start in the month of December, also against the Calgary Hitman on December 30.
The month started poorly for Bjorklund, but there are signs that his game is coming around, particularly towards the end of the month. For the season, Bjorklund is 4-13-0 with a 3.58 GAA and a .894 save percentage.
The Medicine Hat Tigers were cleared to resume team activities on January 10 after being put on pause by the WHL, alongside 13 other teams on December 7 due to COVID.
Bjorklund turned aside 19 of the 22 shots he faced for his fifth win of the season on January 12. The net minder said it was nice for the Tigers to come back after not playing in over a week. “It was nice for us to go out there and get the first goal and the boys were excited to play and it was nice to get the win,” Bjorklund said.
Both teams were coming off a stretch without games due to different COVID-19 pauses, as the Tigers last played on Jan. 2 while the Wheat Kings hadn’t played since Dec. 30 entering Wednesday night’s contest
Red Deer torched Bjorklund and the Tigers for three goals on their first seven shots of the game on January 16, before facing Langkow in relief of Bjorklund, who was making his 23rd start of the season.
Bjorklund was pulled with eight minutes left in regulation, stopping 23 of the 28 shots he faced in his last start of the month against Calgary.
The season continues to be a struggle for the Tigers and Bjorklund. Bjorklund went 2-4 in seven starts in January. He gave up 30 goals on 177 shots for a .855 monthly save percentage. For the season Bjorklund is 6-17-0, with a 3.96 GAA and a .881 save percentage.
Bjorklund’s struggles in goal continued for most of the month of February. He also had a stretch where he was pulled mid-game in four of his five starts from Jan. 16 to Feb. 2.
In late February it appeared Bjorklund finally found his game, allowing just four goals on 62 shots, including a 39-save performance in the Tigers 2-0 loss to the Regina Pats on February 23. Bjorklund told Medicine Hat News he’s felt like he’s found himself over the past few games and said the team helped him get there by clearing lanes so he can better see the puck.
“… I feel like that’s when I am playing my best when I am seeing the puck,” Bjorklund said. “The past few games it’s been nice to know where I am at and have a few good games under my belt.”
The Grand Prairie product recently kept Western Hockey League superstar Connor Bedard off the scoresheet, no easy feat, as Bedard is tied for fifth in the league with 32 goals. Bjorklund said it was nice to shut him down and keep him off the scoresheet.
“With Bedard, he is top notch, he’s exceptional for a reason. When he’s coming down you just have to play the puck how it is,” Bjorklund said. “He’s got some tricks up his sleeve so you have to be patient and poised with it and let the puck hit you.”
Tigers associate coach Joe Frazer said the game was maybe Bjorklund’s best game of the year and said it was good to see him have a game like that.
“He’s such a good goalie, and when he plays like that, he’s one of the best goalies in the country,” Frazer said. “You know, that’s why he was invited to World Junior camp this summer, because he has elite level talent. So to see him play like that last night, it was great to see him because he’s been working hard.”
Unfortunately for Bjorklund and the Tigers in Bjorklund’s next game he gave up six goals on 27 shots faced before being pulled at the midway point of the game on February 26.
For the season Bjorklund is 6-24-0 with a 4.18 GAA and a .875% save percentage. As we’ve noted in previous monthly reports, Medicine Hat is not a very good all-around team, so some of Bjorklund’s negative results are team oriented. For comparison, the Tiger’s number two goaltender, Beckett Langkow, is 3-12-0 with a 4.43 GAA and a .865 save percentage.
Bjorklund continues to get the bulk of the starts for Medicine Hat, starting 10 games in the month of March. Unfortunately, he and the team continue to struggle. Bjorklund’s low-water mark for the month saw him give up seven goals on 39 shots against Edmonton on March 9.
For the season Bjorklund is 8-32-2-0 with a 4.23 GAA, a .876 save percentage and one shutout, again, all on a porous Medicine Hat team. For what it’s worth, Bjorklund has the best save percentage among all four goaltenders on the Tiger’s team this season.
“Sometimes I have to be better, sometimes the forwards and d-men in front of me have to be better,” Bjorklund said. “But overall it’s a team effort and we’re a whole group here, we’re a family….this week we’ll be filling the net in practice and be ready to go next weekend.
On a positive note, Bjorklund finished the month of March on the upswing, giving up just two goals on 29 shots (.931%) on March 19 against Swift Current, and gave up just two goals on 39 shots (.949%) against Calgary on March 26.
It’s been somewhat difficult to gauge his overall development and game this season, and where he might go from here. He’s played four seasons in the WHL, all by the age of 19, but the developmental value of the CHL/Medicine Hat has reached its limit. He remains unsigned by the Capitals.
Bjorklund wrapped up his tough season with Medicine Hat going 8-36-2 with a 4.26 goals against average and a .877 save percentage. Again, on a bad Medicine Hat Tigers team.
— Scott Roblin (@CHATTVRoblin) April 10, 2022
Bjorklund joined teammate Dru Krebs in reporting to Hershey following the conclusion of Medicine Hat’s season on Friday April 15. Both Bjorklund and Krebs signed amateur tryout agreements with the Bears.
The Washington Capitals announced on April 29 the signing of Bjorklund to a three-year, $843,000 per season entry-level deal. The Capitals selected Bjorklund, 19, in the sixth round with the 179th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. He was released from his ATO with the Bears earlier this week.
“I feel so blessed and humbled to be where I am,” Bjorklund told the Medicine Hat News on signing day. “I’ve dreamt about this moment so many times and having the disappointment waking up and knowing that it was just a dream. So this morning, it was a good feeling knowing I officially do have an NHL contract, and it’s a huge accomplishment in my life and I’m excited to see what my pro career has in store for me.”
The Grand Prairie native said the experience in Hershey was great because he was able to learn from the pros, and it allowed him the chance to impress Capitals management in his exit interview.
“All the players and coaching staff welcomed us with open arms, and it was just great to pick players’ brains a little bit and bring it back to my summer training for next season,” Bjorklund said. “When I was down there at Hershey, I think I showcased myself well, I had a good exit meeting and as soon as I landed in Calgary my agent phoned me and said that they had an NHL contract brewed up for me.”
Bjorklund said when he left Hershey it was hinted he would be playing professional hockey next year and that’s what he is focused on. According to the Medicine Hat News, the 20-year-old will spend his summer in Grand Prairie while travelling back and forth to Calgary to train with Crash Conditioning.
“I’m excited to bring back the knowledge that I was fortunate to gain with my time at Hershey to get back to my summer training and hopefully be playing professional hockey next season,” said Bjorklund.
After a dismal season in Medicine Hat, Bjorklund finished his 2021-22 campaign on an upward trend, giving up just two goals on 29 shots (.931%) on March 19 against Swift Current, and he gave up just two goals on 39 shots (.949%) against Calgary on March 26. He quickly departed for Hershey at the conclusion of his WHL season where he signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Bears, and spent some quality time with the team during the end of their AHL season. He would ultimately generate a contract from the Capitals.
Bjorklund will compete for a roster spot in Hershey this fall, but it’s most likely the top two spots will go to Zach Fucale and Hunter Shepard, thus relegating Bjorklund to South Carolina for the start of the season, and that seems like the best next step for him. He will be able to begin working on his pro game and possibly get a shot at a callup to Hershey later in the season.
By Jon Sorensen