|Photo by Matt West|
But is he ready?
Czech native David Pastrnak was the Boston Bruins 2014 first round draft pick, drafted 25th overall. He has spent several years playing for the Swedish professional hockey league Allsvenskan, putting up eight goals and 16 assists in 36 games last season for the Södertälje Sportklubb. It was evident from the start that the Bruins were dealing with a very skilled, very hardworking winger.
His first step in his journey with the Bruins was development camp. Pastrnak dazzled coaches and fans alike with his speed, his puck handling skills and his playmaking ability. After a very strong start, Pastrnak was signed to an entry-level contract in July, sparking excitement over whether or not Pastrnak will wear the spoked B as an official part of the roster come October.
Pastrnak’s next step was rookie camp. Though he was playing alongside a ton of talent, all eyes were on Pastrnak. Multiple hockey reporters reported that Pastrnak was outshining Aaron Ekblad, the 2014 NHL Draft first overall pick, in the Bruins’ scrimmage against the Florida Panthers. After scoring his first goal against Nashville in the final scrimmage of rookie camp, he was one of two Bruins rookies named to the All-Tournament team – something that, again, sparked excitement within the Bruins community.
However, throughout all of the hype, one thing has remained constant – concern about Pastrnak’s size. At 170 pounds, the winger is very small for the NHL, which could prove him to be a liability when competing with bigger, stronger players. Though Pastrnak can hold his own offensively, he will be playing alongside guys who have been around the NHL for years, and have seen their fair share of teenage wonders. A shoulder injury deemed ‘day-to-day’ by head coach Claude Julien sidelined the winger for nearly a week, which naturally caused a lot of chatter over whether or not Pastrnak will be ready to play with the big boys. Though many are pushing for Pastrnak to make the roster, his size is a realistic and important concern. However, the time away from practice could err more on the side of caution from the Bruins, who saw a few injuries sideline some of their best players last season.
However, Pastrnak’s skill and youth are both positives for the Bruins. He has the hands, the skill, the speed and the playmaking for an NHL team. He is consistently trying to force turnovers, and when he succeeds, the magic starts. He’s a natural born goal scorer, but needs to improve upon his defensive play as an offensive player. To put it simply, rookie mistakes won’t cut it with the big club.
“You don’t want to place too much of a burden on this kid’s shoulders, but he was good,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli told reporters after development camp. “You know, like the hesitation you have is he’s 170, 173 pounds, but he’s wiry strong, so you never know. Speed, skill, sense is all there, so it would be nice, but we’ll see. But you know, he’s young, and to throw someone like that at that age, at that weight – but there have been guys who have done it.”
If Chiarelli’s comments seem familiar, it’s because he’s had four players make the team while in their teens – current Bruins Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic, and former Bruins Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin.
Pastrnak has been drawing comparisons from the start to current Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin – who the Bruins obtained as the second overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Seguin, a skilled, speedy, young player, made the team at age 18 and won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins that very same year. So the idea of Pastrnak making the team at 18-years-old isn’t so far out of the realm of possibility, especially considering the skill and speed he is offering the team.
Another thing to consider is how hard Pastrnak has been working. Work ethic is important in Boston. Poor work ethic, and being unprofessional off the ice were both reasons subtly given to fans to explain Tyler Seguin’s trade after only three seasons with the Bruins. Pastrnak, though young, has shown time and time again that his work ethic is there. Attending informal practices, being the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave show a young player who is serious about his spot on this team.
Pastrnak of course needs to see some playing time in the preseason, considering that as of today, he still hasn’t been cleared to play. The Bruins have nine regular season games before they have to decide to keep him or to send him back to Sweden, but forward Reilly Smith seems to think that Pastrnak has a good shot of making the team.
“I’ve been playing with him ever since camp started – for me, at least,” Smith said. He’s a really nice kid. Great hands, good vision. If he’s not here this year, he’ll definitely be here in the near future, for sure.”
As a team who has always placed a certain emphasis on building and keeping a core within a team, could Pastrnak not be a vital piece of a younger core that could someday take over the responsibilities of players like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci? Size is something that a player can work on – that’s evident, in the way Dougie Hamilton bulked up over the summer. Skill and speed, however, come naturally, and in a league that is seeing teams become younger and speedier, Pastrnak is certainly a welcome addition.
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