At this point, there’s no really no limit to the offensive pyrotechnics show that 20-year-old David Pastrnak is putting on nightly for the Bruins.
The electric Pastrnak scored his 16th goal of the season in his 22nd game in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. He was at the heart of a Bruins comeback that erased a three-goal deficit on the way to an overtime point. It was vintage Pastrnak with the speedy winger stripping Evgeny Kuznetsov of the puck at Washington’s offensive blue line, and then winning a race to the net before sliding a backhanded shot through Braden Holtby’s leg pads.
It was a pure speed and skill play at its very core and that’s not an observation you’ve always been able to make about the B’s offense.
That narrowed Washington’s lead to a one goal at the end of the second period and set things up for the Bruins to make an impressive final push in the closing 20 minutes. For Pastrnak, it also continues a breakout season that began with dedicating himself to improving his size and strength last summer, and included getting up to a weight of 190 pounds that allows him to stand in, stay on his skates and win key one-on-one battles all over the ice.
But the most important difference for Pastrnak is the pure, unadulterated offense he’s generating for the Black and Gold this season. After two years of learning and development on the job, the Czech winger is totally cashing in on the elite offensive skills he brought into the league as the youngest player in the NHL two seasons ago. He’s on pace to become the fourth Bruins player in the past 25 years to hit the 40-goal mark. He is the exact kind of game-breaking force the B’s have been desperately yearning for since they shipped Tyler Seguin to Dallas following the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
“He’s burying pucks at a great rate. There’s no question. But I think the way that he’s done it…he soaks it all in and you see Pasta not at all full of himself, and coming in here where he’s always light-hearted and has a great day every day seemingly,” said David Backes. “You love to have guys at the rink like that who bring the energy every day, and a young guy that loves the game, and is always working on it and really using all the tools that he’s been given.
“There’s a lot of season left to continue to add to that [goal] total and to continue to help us win games. He’ll tell you that the most important part of him scoring is that it helps us win games, and that’s what the mindset is in this [dressing] room.”
As Backes alluded to, don’t expect the fun-loving, hard-working Pastrnak to get caught up in the numbers, or be overwhelmed with his standing as the third-leading scorer in the NHL behind a couple of guys named Sidney Crosby and Patrik Laine.
After all, this is a guy that purposefully hasn’t gone to get his two front teeth fixed after they were smashed by a high stick a few weeks back, and instead made a Dumb and Dumber joke on his Instagram account.
Pasta's missing a few chiclets after last night's game...😬 pic.twitter.com/E2RlNYWOpa— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 4, 2016
So, Pastrnak isn’t hung up on the cosmetics of his breakthrough third NHL season. He’s intent on doing what’s been working for him this season.
“Obviously there’s social media that I’m on, so I kind of see [the stat leaders] a little bit. But it’s obviously not something I’m focused on or looking for. So far it’s getting [the puck] in, but in ten games it could be somebody else who has that goal streak, you know?” said Pastrnak. “As long as we’re winning games it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the top [of the league’s goal scorers] or whether you’re on the bottom.
“We are like one team, and that’s the way we’re going to get better. It’s not a one-man unit, it’s 22 guys. I’m just trying to play the same way. It’s not like I’m going to have to score every game. Nobody is going to score every game in this league. When I have a chance I still have in my mindset that I want to pass a little too much, so I’ll just keep playing the same way. We have the same chances, five or six scoring chances, every game. Sometimes four of them are going to go in, sometimes one and sometimes none. I think we did a good job as a line and I have to give a lot of credit to my linemates. Without them, I wouldn’t have all these goals.”
One thing that will be on the minds of Bruins management, however, as the numbers pile up for Pastrnak: his contract status beyond this season. Pastrnak will be a restricted free agent following this breakout year, and he has perfectly timed his goal-scoring ascension with his ability to monetarily maximize the situation with a giant second contract.
If Pastrnak stays healthy and productive enough this season for 30-40 goals and 60-70 points (and he’s nearly halfway there just 27 games into the season), then he’s looking at the same kind of contract handed out to young, productive players like Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Monahan, Jaden Schwartz, Nathan MacKinnon and Mark Schiefele, in the range of five to six years at around $6 million per season, give or take a few hundred thousand per season.
The real “nightmare” scenario for the Bruins is Pastrnak truly goes supersonic offensively and puts himself in a position where he can demand Vladimir Tarasenko money (eight years, $60 million) in a second contract. Certainly ,Pastrnak is realizing his star potential at the NHL level in his third season and may have NHL All-Star games and other honors in his near future, but he’s not quite yet at Tarasenko’s level of sustained, consistent excellence as he exits his entry-level deal.
“If I could find a similarity it would be in the way they can both just find the open ice, where they can get available and the puck just seems to find those guys where they’re able to put it where they need to score goals,” said Backes, a longtime teammate of Tarasenko with the St. Louis Blues. “Pastrnak is a little more opportunistic closer to the net in finding loose pucks and scooping them in. They both have great shots, but Tarasenko is a little more of a delay, find the late ice, get the late pass and be able to rip one past the goalie from a little bit further away.
“They both have great one-timers. There’s probably a lot of similarities, but I think Pasta working with his linemates and the chemistry they’ve been able to achieve is awesome to see, and is going to be awesome for this group.”
Clearly, the Bruins want to avoid getting into a potential stalemate situation with Pastrnak where other, offensively-starved and desperate teams could throw offer sheets his way. This is a big part of the reason why the B’s opted not to go the nuclear route in throwing an offer sheet at Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba last summer, and open themselves up for another team to do it to them. Instead, the Bruins let the situation play itself with Trouba, and didn’t send a message that NHL poachers could come after Pastrnak if he’s somehow without a contract extension after the July 1 opening of free agency.
Nobody is expecting it to play out in any kind of adversarial way, given how much Pastrnak enjoys playing in Boston and how much the B’s value their budding superstar. The Bruins have enough cap space to ultimately make it all work with their 20-year-old scoring machine, and his level of breathtaking skill and natural scoring ability is nearly impossible to replace.
So, it should be all good for the Black and Gold: there’s no reason to think Pastrnak is going to fall off the cliff offensively from his torrid start, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be doing it for the Black and Gold for a long, long time to come. It goes without saying, though, that everybody will feel a lot better when Pastrnak is signed on the dotted line, and the offense keeps pouring in from the puck prodigy.