Bruins

David Pastrnak taking more steps in his ascension to one of NHL's best

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David Pastrnak taking more steps in his ascension to one of NHL's best

BRIGHTON – At 22 years old, David Pastrnak still has those carefree moments that let you know he’s still a kid loving life as one of the NHL’s best right wingers.

Who can forget when he said his first big purchase after signing his $40 million contract was going to be an $8 sushi dinner at the Galleria Mall food court? Or after Monday afternoon’s win over Ottawa when Pastrnak said it was a heavy breakfast of “two pancakes and eggs” that inspired him to throw his weight around and take the puck hard to the net while creating a couple of Bruins goals?

“You know, [before the] first period I had a pretty good breakfast, some pancakes and eggs,” said Pastrnak with the equivalent of a Czech Cheshire Cat grin on his face. “So I felt a little heavier [and] just decided to drive it to the net a couple times.”

All food obsessions aside, it’s been quite noticeable that Pastrnak has taken his game to another level early in his fifth NHL season.

He’s already got the 30 goals/70 points thing down from a statistical perspective, and Pasta is already well on his way this season with three goals, five points and a plus-4 in three games. The skating, the shooting, the passing and the offensive instincts are all at an elite level, and it seems he’s also got the aforementioned new habit of taking pucks hard to the net as well this season.

But in a clear effort to become a complete two-way superstar at the NHL level, Pastrnak has also taken his defensive game to another level this season too. It was the 22-year-old that changed the course of the win in Buffalo with a leaping poke check in the first period, and in doing so broke up a Grade A Sabres scoring chance on the back-check. The Bruins stormed back down and scored the game’s first goal right afterward, and then never looked back in a shutout win over the Sabres.

Just a year or two ago, Pastrnak was still getting called to the carpet for careless puck play and soft defensive plays that really stuck out when he played on a line with a guy like Patrice Bergeron. After choosing last season to take his playoff performance to a whole different stratosphere, it looks like Pastrnak is doing the same thing with his two-way game this season.

It’s clearly not by accident, as Pastrnak himself will attest.

“Every year you want to get better and you’re expecting to get better, you know?” said Pastrnak to NBCSportsBoston.com. “It’s one of my goals to be reliable and to be trusted. So far I feel good and I’m trying to do my job in the offensive zone but at the same time play all over the ice. I’m playing with two great two-way players, so why couldn’t I become one of them too?

“It’s 100 percent experience. You come here first year and you want to have confidence, but you gain more confidence with each game you play and each year you play. I’m way more comfortable in the D-zone now than I used to be. I know what to do when I have the puck. I don’t panic anymore and know that I have time to make the right play.”

There are good reasons why Pastrnak doesn’t panic anymore like he might have when he was the youngest player in the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie. Part of it is his rise to being one of the best young players in the NHL, and part of it is the accountability that comes along with riding shotgun with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. It’s a great situation for a young player to be in, but it also comes along with its own set of great, or perfect, expectations.

“That’s what you get when you put [Pastrnak] with a guy like Bergeron who is hard on his linemates and expects guys to be accountable,” said Marchand. “We play hard minutes against top lines and you can’t slack off against them.

“So you’re starting to see that in his game – the back-checking, and the defensive side of things, even his positioning in the neutral zone, offensive zone. When you add that with his playmaking ability, he’s a special player.”

Perhaps the best part of Pastrnak’s maturation into a two-way star?

It’s awaiting the other ultra-talented young players on the Bruins roster as they take to the team-oriented, selfless leadership styles of players like Bergeron and Zdeno Chara that do things the right way. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy invoked the Lion King in calling it the Bruins “circle of life.”

“You never know, right, when you draft [young players] and they come in. It’s a bit of the culture. I give credit to [Zdeno Chara], Bergie, Marchand and the veteran guys in the room that have created that culture,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’re not just one way. We’re 200-foot players here. You take pride in it. Now [Pastrnak] is getting it and we’re seeing more of it. I see more of it with Jake [DeBrusk] with a year under his belt.

“If it snowballs and the circle of life continues where the older guys teach the middle guys, and then the middle guys teach the younger guys…then you’re on to something. That’s how you get winning franchises and organizations when that culture is set. It’s great for Pasta. We didn’t know two years ago, right? He was kind of an offensive guy that was just trying to get it going. But he’s got a lot of pride. Usually the guys with the character and the pride are the ones that come around.”

Well, Pastrnak is already showing this season that he’s coming around and continuing his ascension to being one of the best players in the NHL. 

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Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

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Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

The Boston Bruins leadership group has shown they are about more than simple lip service and social media posts when it comes to what’s been going on in this country over the last few weeks.

Patrice Bergeron made a $50,000 donation to a pair of worthy causes this week in the Boston branch of the NAACP and Centre Multiethnique de Quebec while releasing a lengthy, passionate statement through the Bruins.

B's captain Zdeno Chara was spotted in all his 6-foot-9 glory walking in Boston on Friday afternoon during one of the protests through the city streets while sporting a Bruins mask in the crowd.

None of this is a surprise as both the 43-year-old Chara and the 33-year-old Bergeron have fostered a welcoming, friendly environment in the Bruins dressing over the years. The Bruins veterans don’t even really use the word “rookie” because Chara has always believed that it creates unnecessary separation between younger and older teammates that shouldn’t exist in a team setting.

Bergeron is partially credited with helping pull a black teammate named Gemel Smith out of a mental funk that he was mired in during his time with the Bruins. Bergeron urged Smith to talk to somebody professionally when he sensed that something wasn’t quite right with his new teammate and it helped Smith turn things around personally and professionally when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

Smith ended up playing just three games with the Bruins last season after being picked up on waivers, but even in that brief time Bergeron had managed to reach out and make a connection with the player that made a lasting impact. That’s exactly the kind of healthy, welcoming dressing room that’s made the Bruins a success over the years.

There isn’t a long history of black players with the Bruins in recent years as Smith, Jarome Iginla and Malcolm Subban are the only black NHLers to suit up with Boston over the last decade. So there haven't been a great deal of opportunities for Bergeron, Chara and the rest of the B’s leadership core to show just much they embrace the diversity and equal treatment for all that so many around the NHL are voicing in the days since George Floyd was horrifically killed by Minneapolis police officers.

But give full credit to both Bergeron and Chara for stepping up this week, representing the Bruins in a manner they would be proud of and showing that it’s about actions as much as -- if not more than -- words when it comes to promoting equal treatment for all, and a better tomorrow for people of all races and backgrounds.

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

The NHL has their 24-team postseason format and they’ve even drilled down on some of the specifics this week.

We still don’t know exactly when the Stanley Cup postseason can start or when NHL training camps would be going full speed ahead. Also, all of the matchups beyond the “qualifying round” are still very much in the air.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

Clearly there is still plenty we don’t know about the Stanley Cup Playoffs once the NHL presses the play button in the next few months.

But we do know enough about the proposed postseason to know who will benefit, and who will be getting the short end of the stick. So that’s enough to put together the always popular winners and losers list when it comes to the new NHL postseason format. 

Click here for the gallery.