Bruins

Bruins Summer Series: Can David Pastrnak use playoffs as learning experience?

Bruins Summer Series: Can David Pastrnak use playoffs as learning experience?

Today’s piece on David Pastrnak is the last in a 10-part series over two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

When you look back at the numbers, they certainly didn’t tell the entire story.

David Pastrnak finished tied for the team lead with his nine playoff goals and he had a perfectly respectable 19 points in his 24 playoff games during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. But the 23-year-old Bruins right winger wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was while scoring 81 points in 66 games during the regular season. Worse still, he appeared to lose confidence during Boston’s postseason run and at points was turning away chances to shoot away and rip one-timers that he was scoring on frequently during the regular season.

How much of it can be attributed to problems related to the thumb injury he suffered away from the rink during the regular season? How much of it was battling through the playoff grind where mental strength is just as important as dazzling physical abilities?

It sure felt like a combination of both, and the Bruins are hoping that Pastrnak’s battle with his own self-confidence is something that will make him a better player moving forward.

“I go back to his first postseason against Ottawa and it wasn’t very good. Then the following year he was strong in the first round against Toronto and maybe slipped a little bit in the second round. Then this past postseason, I thought he got better and then it got even harder in the third round,” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with NBC Sports Boston. “So these are learning experiences for these young players to really understand what it takes as you advance in the playoffs. Each round is different than the previous one.

“Then you get to the conference final and the finals and it’s tough hockey out there. I look at Pasta and he’s grown from the first playoff experience to this last one, and I expect even more growth out of him moving forward. I understand losing confidence, but I don’t understand losing confidence and not shooting. That’s what I’d talk to him about.

"For me, if you lose confidence, it means putting more pucks on net if you’re counted on to score goals. But everybody’s different when they lose confidence and everybody thinks differently. Pasta came out and said that he wasn’t confident shooting the puck, so maybe he’d just give it to somebody else. From my perspective, you put pucks on net and then everybody has to turn around and find where the puck is. Maybe that creates two opportunities out of it. You could tell he was fighting it because he was struggling with the one-timer.”

So is the player based on his own comments following the season where Pastrnak called the 24-game playoff run “a big mental experience.” Certainly that was obvious as he flailed away at one-timer attempts and eventually turned down shooting opportunities when the laser shot from the face-off circles is his scoring bread and butter. Pastrnak vowed to be better moving forward, and it’s a good bet he will be based on his willingness to work hard, and his undeniable upward trajectory since joining the NHL as the league’s youngest player at 18 years old during his rookie season.

Pastrnak is an NHL superstar-in-the-making and his first run to the Stanley Cup Final is another opportunity to better himself as a hockey player.

Now it’s more a question as to how good he can be where he finished with 38 goals and 81 points last season, and clearly has the ability to get up in the neighborhood of 50 goals and 100 points if healthy and at his best.

The other question is where he’d be best at moving forward. It would appear the Bruins are comfortable keeping the skilled, game-breaking Pastrnak on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the Perfection Line. But there’s always the option to move Pastrnak down with his fellow Czech David Krejci and diversify their scoring at times, while also potentially moving a bigger, stronger forward with Bergeron and Marchand.

This will be a daily question for Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins coaching staff on a game-by-game basis, but the bigger picture is about Pastrnak’s evolution into the best player on the B’s roster. The 23-year-old isn’t there yet and he showed during the long postseason run that there are still areas where his game can mature into the complete player he will become.

But there’s still no denying the bright future for Pastrnak after five brilliant NHL seasons, and that this past spring will end up being another formative experience that is pointed toward being the future of the franchise.    

Key stat: 81 – The career-high number of points in 66 games for Pastrnak, who is just scratching the surface of how good he can be at 23 years old. Now it’s about continuing to evolve during the regular season and becoming that kind of dominant player in the postseason as well.  

Pastrnak in his own words: “It was obviously challenging for me, but I had 25 guys to help pick me up just like I would do the opposite [for them]. It was the mental stuff, you know? In this kind of life, even if you don't want to see stuff, read stuff and blah-blah with the media, it's tough. You're always going to see it. And that's fine, you know? I will take a lot of positives from this. I'm just going to get stronger mentally. So it was a good experience. It's a big mental experience. I gained a lot this postseason. The mental stuff is what I learned the most. [I learned] that it doesn't [expletive] matter if you play a bad friggen' game. It's the playoffs. Or if you have a bad shift. It's the playoffs and you just need to come back to the bench and make sure you're ready for the next shift no matter what happened behind you. It's the tough part of hockey sometimes when you get back stuck on something instead of looking forward, and focusing on the next shift. Sometimes you get stuck on thinking what happened before and that brings you down kind of."

The biggest question he faces: Can Pastrnak evolve after admitting to losing confidence during the Stanley Cup playoff run? Was the thumb injury a one-time blip that the young right winger is going to learn from and become an even better pro as a result? Beyond that it’s a matter of Pastrnak becoming as good as he wants to be, provided he can continue to improve his two-way game, retain all his offensive gifts and learn how to do deal with being targeted by other teams on a nightly basis.

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Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

BRIGHTON, Mass – With Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo now signed and in training camp, the news is overwhelmingly positive for the Black and Gold with a full camp roster highlighted by players returning from last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“The band is back together now, eh?” said a smiling Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy when asked about it on Wednesday afternoon with everybody on the ice and Patrice Bergeron seemingly healthy with no restrictions, either.

But a slew of returning players and avoided contract snafus also means few open spots on the NHL roster with the start of the regular season just a couple of weeks away. For some players, the clock is running short on their time to make an impact and become part of a Bruins group expected to once again compete and go deep in the playoffs this season.

Bruins prospects like 23-year-old Anders Bjork, 22-year-old Zach Senyshyn and 22-year-old Jakub Zboril are at a major crossroads with the Black and Gold entering this season. All three enter the final year of their entry level deals, as do Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Fitzgerald and Karson Kuhlman, and need to begin making a bigger impact if they want to remain within the organization.

“Those guys are in the last year of their entry deals. It is important. You’re playing for your spot here in Boston, but also for your livelihood. You want to earn that next contract, and for some guys it takes a little bit longer,” said Cassidy. “They should be farther down the line than a guy like [Oskar] Steen that’s just coming in here and it’s all new to them. You’d expect those guys to push through.

“It’s just the circle of life so to speak. You have guys turning pro every year and we’ve got to make room for them. It’s kind of time to separate yourself. You should be the first call-up if you’re in that situation, and that should be your goal.”

Certainly Bjork is in a bit of a different category since he’s already played 50 NHL games, and a pair of shoulder surgeries have played a big role in holding back his development. But for Zboril and Senyshyn, former first round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, it’s getting to become now or never time after a couple of “just okay” seasons at the AHL level.

Zboril has put identical four goal, 19-point seasons at the AHL over the last two seasons in Providence, and did so last year while playing in 12 fewer games for the P-Bruins. Senyshyn finished with 14 goals and 24 points last season for Providence, a pair of points less than he scored in his first pro season while playing in 66 games both seasons.

Zboril hasn’t really tapped into the offensive end of his game that many projected for him when he was in junior hockey, and Senyshyn hasn’t much resembled the guy that scored 40-plus goals in the OHL during his junior career. The Bruins are still searching for a top-6 right wing to play with David Krejci, and that should be Senyshyn based on his age and where he was drafted.

It just hasn’t happened to this point as the undrafted Kuhlman took that spot in the Bruins lineup during the Stanley Cup Final, and open auditions are once again there for the spot this fall in training camp.

Each now has some NHL games under their belt, but both were also surpassed organizationally by Connor Clifton and Kuhlman last season when injuries hit the Black and Gold at the NHL level. That’s a pretty telling statement about where both Zboril and Senyshyn are currently at in the organization, and an indicator that they both need to step up their games. If not, the bust term is going to be applied to two of the three first round picks from the 2015 NHL draft where the Bruins became the first team in history to make three consecutive first round selections.

“I’m just trying to show my details and show my work ethic and use my speed to take pucks to the net,” said Senyshyn, who said that playing a couple of games in the NHL last season has ‘lit a fire under me.’ “I think doing the little details that I’ve done the last couple of years in Providence is going to be big. I just have to trust my game and play with confidence.”

At this point, Zboril and Senyshyn are never going to be able to make people forget that players like Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot and Brock Boeser were selected shortly after them in that infamous first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. But they can make sure they are of use to the B’s organization and still attempt to develop into the impact players that Bruins scouts once clearly envisioned them to be four years ago.

If it doesn’t happen this season then it probably won’t be long before either of them, or both, might be facing an uphill battle in another NHL organization that doesn’t have as much invested in them.

Bruins prefer to leave Charlie Coyle at third-line center>>>

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Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

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File photo

Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

BRIGHTON -- There was some question as to whether Charlie Coyle might get a little time at wing this season for the Bruins after locking things down at the third line center position last season after coming over in trade from the Minnesota Wild.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Coyle brought two-way play, puck possession and offensive upside to the third line upon his arrival, and then he really stepped it up in the playoffs with nine goals and 16 points in his 24 games. So naturally, there is curiosity as to whether his size, strength and offense could move up to right wing on the second line where his game could be paired pretty comfortably with playmaking David Krejci.

Or even more radically, Coyle’s size and strength could make an interesting match on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

But it sounds like the Bruins are going to keep things strong down the middle with Bergeron and Krejci as their top-6 centers and Coyle and Sean Kuraly as the bottom-6 centers giving the B's depth and quality down the middle of the lineup. Coyle was centering Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen at practice on Wednesday afternoon and has played center throughout training camp.

It may be getting to a point now where they don’t want to fool around with things by switching Coyle’s positions on him as happened in Minnesota, and it certainly sounds like Cassidy’s preference is to leave him at center.

“Generally speaking the match-up is the D-pair and the centerman down low. The wingers obviously matter, but they are less of a factor. At least that’s what I think when I think match-ups. So to have Charlie [Coyle] in there [at center] now, and my intention is to keep him there unless the team would be better served with him on the wing,” said Cassidy. “Right now, we like the way we played last year and hopefully this year. It makes you a lot more comfortable in terms of defending.”

Cassidy reserved the right to change his mind if Trent Frederic really comes along as an NHL-ready center or if all of the top-6 right wing candidates end up dropping the ball in training camp. That doesn’t appear to be the case over the first week of training camp and that may just mean Coyle stays in his comfortable position at center where he gives the Bruins the lineup depth that helped catapult them to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

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