David Pastrnak's rapid ascent has really been fascinating to follow. When the Bruins drafted him back in June, my first thought was that he looked like the lead from some Czech version of Dazed and Confused. I remember the TSN crew saying it was a great pick for the Bruins, so hey, that was cool.
Shortly after he was drafted, the Hype Train began to fuel up. Twitter friend Erik messaged me saying the pick was a steal for the Bruins, leading to this piece about what kind of player Pastrnak is. Rookie camp came and went, and Pastrnak was the talk of the week. Suddenly, rumblings of "can this kid make the team?" began, intensifying when Jarome Iginla elected to sign with Colorado.
Members of the Bruins' brass have come out and said they'd give him every opportunity to make the team, meaning this isn't all just idle chatter. Last weekend's rookie games did little to quell the rising tide of expectation, as Pastrnak scored a goal and was said to be one of, if not the, best players in a tournament that included Jonathan Drouin and Aaron Ekblad.
Now, with training camp about to get into full swing, we're faced with the question: will Pastrnak be on the Bruins' roster on opening night?
First off, full disclosure: I'm the leader of the Pastrnak Hype Train. In fact, I probably built the station, the tracks and have stocked the train with food and drink. 99% of it is tongue-in-cheek, the product of a boring offseason that can use a little spice. Do I think Pastrnak is going to be a good player? Yes. Do I think Pastrnak is already having his number retired?
Yes. Oops, I meant no.
As is the case with any player, there are things favoring Pastrnak making the club and potential hindrances.
While it's true that Pastrnak made a few good defensive plays in the rookie tournament, there seems to be a consensus that his D needs work (not exactly surprising for an 18-year-old scorer). While Pastrnak wouldn't be put on this team to kill penalties, he can't be a slouch in his own end. Do you remember what happened to the last couple first round picks who earned reps as "offense-first" players? If Pastrnak makes this team, he's going to be on one of the top two lines. If he skates with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, his defensive responsibilities may lessen slightly, but will still be important. If he's placed with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, a duo usually tasked as much with shutting down opposing top lines as scoring themselves, he's going to need to be on top of his defensive game to stay. If Pastrnak was having trouble with D in a rookie tournament, he may not fare too well against the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the world.
Help or hurt? Hurt
Putting aside the whole "18 years old" thing, Pastrnak has experience issues. The highest level of hockey he's played has been Sweden's second-tier league, Hockey Allsvenskan. In 47 Allsvenskan games, Pastrnak has recorded 27 points, thought 24 of those came in 36 games last season. We can use these numbers to find his NHL equivalency, or NHLe. Taking both seasons into account, Pastrnak's 27 Allsvenskan points translate to 17 points over the course of a full NHL slate. Assuming he's getting better, let's take only his last season into account: that 24 points in 36 games translates to around 20 points in 82 NHL games. Awful numbers? No. But what it means is that, according to the NHLe gurus, Pastrnak has found success in a league that ranks above the CHL and below the AHL talent-wise.
Help or hurt? Hurt
One of the MSM knocks on Pastrnak has been his size; after all, the kid is 18 and has plenty of growing to do. DJ Bean of WEEI noted that Pastrnak's size was an issue in the rookie tournament, which doesn't bode well for hanging with the big guys. However, is it really a big deal? Pastrnak's official measurements (which have probably changed) are 6'0", 167 lbs. He's not exactly a bruiser. But consider this: Brad Marchand is 5'9", 183 lbs. Ryan Spooner is 5'11", 181 lbs. David Krejci is 6'0", 188 lbs. All three are doing pretty well for themselves in North American pro hockey. Would an extra 15 lbs. help Pastrnak? Sure. But his size isn't the be all, end all when it comes to making the cut.
Help or hurt? Neutral
Pastrnak is, essentially, what the Bruins need right now: a skilled offensive guy who shoots right-handed. His scouting report from Future Considerations reads like it was ripped from a Peter Chiarelli daydream: "flashy, electrifying offensive talent," "gifted hands," "bullet shot," "dangerous finisher." That sound you just heard was Joe Haggerty changing his profile picture to one of he and Pastrnak. With Iginla, Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton, all right-shot wingers, elsewhere, Pastrnak could fill the scoring line shooter void. Did the Bruins draft him with that in mind, or has a collision of circumstances simply sped things up? Probably the latter. But regardless, Pastrnak's skill set is, essentially, exactly what this team needs right now.
Help or hurt? Help
Everyone knows the Bruins are in a cap crunch. Pastrnak, playing on an ELC, would be a cheap winger. Pretty straightforward.
Help or hurt? Help
Due to the way the CBA is written, the Bruins can basically take a chance on Pastrnak hanging around and send him back to Sweden if it isn't working out, all without burning a year off of his ELC. Pastrnak could end up getting the Nikita Zadorov or Mark Scheifele treatment, playing a handful of NHL games (but fewer than ten) before being cut. The only real risks in this case are injury and confidence troubles (which shouldn't be an issue for a teenager who never really expected to make it anyways).
Help or hurt? Help
So...what does it all mean? It's hard to say. There are arguments to be made on both sides, but it'll basically boil down to training camp. If Pastrnak plays in exhibition games and is getting pushed around constantly, he'll be headed back to Sweden. If he excels in the exhibition games, he'll be staying in Boston, where the aforementioned process will be repeated through the first nine games of the regular season.
If Pastrnak sticks around, what does recent history tell us to expect? Since 1997, a few Bruin forwards have made the jump from first round draftee to NHL player.
|Player||Year||Pick #||1st Year GP||G||A||P|
If history is any indication, expecting around 25 points from Pastrnak might be pushing it. The caveat here is that Joe Thornton was notoriously sheltered (or underused) by Pat Burns, Phil Kessel was playing for a terrible team and had a cancer scare early in his rookie year and Tyler Seguin essentially got the Thornton Pat Burns treatment from Claude Julien. If Pastrnak makes this team, he'll have to have the shackles taken off to truly excel (which, knowing Julien's style, is unlikely).
So...what does it all mean, BHN?
As I said, I'm on board the Pastrnak Hype Train. I'd love to see #88 flying down the Garden ice in December. However, I think Pastrnak makes it through camp, gets a taste in the NHL and then gets sent back to Sweden for one more year of seasoning.
My reasoning here is that the Bruins basically have four forward spots open, one of which is riding alongside Messrs. Lucic and Krejci. It's already been reasoned that Loui Eriksson would likely take that top spot, which for a team gunning for a Stanley Cup seems more sensible than leaning on an 18-year-old. Three other spots are open, but skaters like Matt Fraser, Justin Florek, Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev or even a Seth Griffith or Craig Cunningham are likely higher in line than Pastrnak.
As I said, I'd be thrilled to see Pastrnak stick. I'd love for these last two paragraphs to be proven incorrect, and I think we'll know whether or not I'll be wrong within the first few preseason games.
But if Pastrnak does end up going back to Sodertalje for a year, it won't be the worst thing for him. He can bulk up, work on his skating, get some more great suits and come back next summer ready to take his spot.
And I'll be driving the Pastrnak Hype Train all over again.