Back in the 2014 NHL draft, the Boston Bruins selected an 18-year old teenager out of the Czech Republic with their 25th overall pick in David Pastrnak. Pastrnak’s skillset was well-known, and the questions asked prior to the draft largely centered around whether his skillset could translate to the NHL level, and how fast would his game would mature into being something other than a raw, extremely skilled winger.
That maturation process has gone far quicker than anyone could have anticipated, and Pastrnak has been showing signs of his ahead of schedule development since he was 18.
In Pastrnak’s first training camp, he caught the eyes of every coach, player, fan and media member who attended, and after originally being assigned to Providence, was called up by the Bruins in November of 2014 and never looked back.
The skillset of Pastrnak was evident from the beginning. From the moment he entered the NHL level, his speed, remarkable hands, and ability to create his own offense was clear, and had many fans excited for this teenager’s future.
Then, a trend began to set in. Pastrnak missed time in his rookie season with a fractured foot. In his first two seasons, the fractured foot was just the beginning. Pastrnak suffered lower and upper body injuries that caused Pastrnak to play in just 97 games in his first two seasons. Questions began to make their rounds across the hockey world whether Pastrnak was an injury-proned player who, at just six-foot, 180 pounds, may not have the build to play consistently at the NHL level. Even his slippage to the 25th pick in the 2014 NHL draft can possibly be linked to a back injury he sustained prior to the draft while playing in the Czech Republic.
Pastrnak, over these past two seasons however has put many of these questions to rest.
Pastrnak has missed just seven games in the past two seasons, and played in all 82 this season for the Bruins. Bruin’s winger Tim Schaller was the only other player to play in every game for the B’s this season.
After gathering 25 goals and 28 assists for a total of 53 points in 97 games through his first two seasons, Pastrnak has 69 goals and 81 assists to give him 150 points in 157 games the past two seasons.
Pastrnak became the youngest 30 goal scorer in Boston Bruins history last season when he scored 34 goals in his age 20 season, and was able to follow it up with an even greater season this year after signing a six-year extension with the B’s this past offseason.
The numbers and skill have always been clear with Pastrnak, but his ceiling as to how great he can be is beginning to look murky and almost non-existent.
Much of that can be attributed to some of the challenges Pastrnak has been faced this season, and the way in which he responded.
Let us go back towards the beginning of the season. Pastrnak, after having several bad giveaways in a game against the Minnesota Wild, was benched in the third period and called out by Bruce Cassidy following the game. Cassidy asked the indirect question about what kind of player Pastrnak wanted to be. Did he want to be a leader, someone the team could trust in any scenario, or just a flashy, skilled player known solely for his offensive capabilities.
Pastrnak responded and has shown a clear improvement in his all-around play this season, which hasn’t just helped him defensively, but offensively as well.
Fast forward all the way to March, the Bruins are taking on the Lightning in a battle for first place in the east. Patrice Bergeron has the puck at center ice and takes a hard, clean hit from Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. Pastrnak took exception to this hit, confronted Girardi, and dropped the gloves for his first career fighting major.
The hit was clean but Pastrnak and the rest of the Boston Bruins understood that Bergeron had just recently returned to action and had already missed considerable time with a fractured foot. Pastrnak took it upon himself to let the Lightning and the rest of the NHL know that the Bruins weren’t going to let teams take runs at Bergeron without paying the consequences.
Flashy, one-dimensional players don’t do what Pastrnak did that night, leaders do.
Let’s go a little further to the final week of the season. The Bruins were struggling down the stretch of the season, and reporters began to peg Pastrnak with the question as to whether playing in every game was a reason for his lack of production during a short stretch towards the end of the season. It was an opportunity for Pastrnak to cop-out and make an excuse for his lack of production down the stretch. But he didn’t cop out, citing he needed to play better and that the schedule was not an excuse because every team plays 82 games. When followed up with a question as to whether he wanted to rest up and sit out the final few games of the regular season, Pastrnak replied saying he didn’t want to talk about rest, and was adamant about playing a full season.
The maturation of David Pastrnak has taken an enormous step this season. Pastrnak scored his first two hat-tricks this year. His first came as he led an extraordinary come back for the B’s against the Carolina Hurricanes in March, scoring three goals in the third period alone to help the Bruins overcome a 4-1 deficit and win the game 6-4.
The second one, of course, came last night, in a six-point effort that has the Bruins up 2-0 on the Leafs in a series many expected to go seven games. Instead, the Leafs are on their heels, in large part because of the dominance of David Pastrnak
Pastrnak is in his fourth season, and his second postseason. For the first few years, people questioned his durability, his physical frame, his commitment to maturing his game. All of these questions were brought up frequently, and Pastrnak has answered them all with his play this season in particularly. Yes, Pastrnak still has areas he can improve in his three-zone game, but the young winger, who turns 22 in May, is growing. He is becoming more durable, his game is becoming more responsible, he’s become a leader for a team that looks posed for a deep and successful postseason run.
What so many people have overlooked over the years is that while Pastrnak may have had these issues he has had to overcome and work on, that should be expected given he entered the league at just 18 years of age.
David Pastrnak is proving to be a generational talent. He is surrounded by tenured stars in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, and Rick Nash who have been around for a while and left their mark on the league. He is also surrounded by many great young players who have bright futures in Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, and Danton Heinen. He even has another young, generational talent on his team in Charlie McAvoy who has garnered much of the praise and optimism of being the B’s next great superstar.
All of these veteran players have built tremendous legacy’s, and these young players on the Bruins who have very bright futures will someday build their own and are in the process of that now.
Down the road will talk about these players. Will talk about their legacy’s, their abilities as players, the level of play they were able to reach. All of that will happen, especially if they can bring the Boston Bruins back to the top of the NHL world.
But what is becoming more and more clear as the days, months, and years go by, is that David Pastrnak’s legacy, ability, and the level he reaches by the end of his career may be the greatest of them all.