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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NHL trade targets: 5 defensemen for Bruins to pursue before deadline

NHL trade targets: 5 defensemen for Bruins to pursue before deadline

The Boston Bruins have hit their bye week after a quality win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

The break gives the B's some much-needed time to rest up and treat injuries, and it also provides management with an opportunity to analyze its roster and determine what kind of upgrades the team should make before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Bolstering the depth on the blue line is an annual goal for contending teams at the deadline, and the Bruins should be no exception in 2020. Boston has one of the better blue lines in the NHL, but this group's depth is always tested in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Finding a veteran D-man to add to the roster would be a smart move for general manager Don Sweeney in the coming weeks.

Here are five defensemen the Bruins should consider pursuing at the trade deadline (All salary information via Cap Friendly, advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick).

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Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings
2019-20 stats
: 32 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 43 SOG
Contract: $4 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

The Kings enter Wednesday tied for the second-worst record in the league, and they should be sellers ahead of the trade deadline. Martinez is one of their best trade chips. He's not going to contribute a ton offensively, but he's a steady presence in the defensive end who can play 20-plus minutes per night. The 32-year-old veteran has played in 64 career playoff games and owns two Stanley Cup rings with the Kings, so he'd bring loads of postseason experience to a contender.

Martinez is fairly versatile, too. He's a left-shot defenseman but has shown an impressive ability to be productive on the right side. Martinez also is not a rental. He's signed through next season at a reasonable cap hit, which helps make him an attractive target for a contending team that expects to compete for a Stanley Cup in the short term.

Brenden Dillon, San Jose Sharks
2019-20 stats
: 50 GP, 1 G, 10 A, 43 SOG
Contract: $3,270,000 cap hit, UFA after this season

Dillon, like Martinez, isn't going to light up the stat sheet with impressive offensive numbers, but he would add some physicality and snarl to the Bruins blue line at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. San Jose hasn't played particularly well this season, but Dillon is making a positive impact. The Sharks have a plus-38 edge in shot attempts, a plus-15 advantage in shots on goal and a plus-16 mark in scoring chances at 5-on-5 with Dillon on the ice.

The Sharks are 11 points out of a playoff spot (as of this writing), so it absolutely would be smart for them to trade some of their upcoming free agents. Dillon will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he's a rental trade target. If he can be had for merely a draft pick(s), it's definitely a move worth pursuing.

Sami Vatanen, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 stats: 44 GP, 5 G, 17 A, 91 SOG
Contract: $4,875,000 cap hit, UFA after this season

Vatanen is the type of defenseman you acquire for an offensive upgrade on the back end. He's a smooth skater, a good passer (especially in transition) and is able to roam the blue line on the power play. He's actually averaging 3:00 of power-play ice time per game for the Devils, and 10 (one goal, nine assists) of his 17 points have come with the man advantage.

The 28-year-old veteran is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer, so he's also rental. Vatanen is a good offensive player and worth pursuing for the right deal. The ideal scenario for the Bruins, however, would be young defensemen Matt Grzelcyk or Jeremy Lauzon giving them scoring contributions from the blue line so the team can use its trade assets elsewhere.

Ron Hainsey, Ottawa Senators
2019-20 stats: 41 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 29 SOG
Contract: $3.5 million, UFA after this season

Hainsey would be a defensive depth upgrade for the Bruins. The 38-year-old veteran is not a top-four player at this stage of his career. He does, however, have plenty of postseason experience. Hainsey has taken part in 39 playoff games over the last three seasons, including a role on the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning roster in 2016-17. He's also a decent penalty killer and has played 3:14 of shorthanded ice time per game for Ottawa.

The Senators are still rebuilding and it makes no sense for them to keep a UFA like Hainsey when they could move him at the trade deadline for a draft pick or prospect. Hainsey isn't likely to come in and greatly improve a contending team's blue line, but you can't have enough defensive depth in April, May and June.

Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks
2019-20 stats: 50 GP, 6 G, 18 A, 83 SOG
Contract: $1.2 million cap hit, UFA after this season

The Blackhawks are three points behind a wild card playoff berth and four points in back of a Central Division playoff berth, so it's not definite that they'll be sellers at the trade deadline. If they do decide to sell, Gustafsson should be an attractive target for teams that want to upgrade the offensive skill on their blue line.

Gustafsson has a small cap hit, so he wouldn't difficult to fit into a team's salary structure. His ability to generate offense and play on the power play also is valuable. His role would be someone who's deployed on many offensive zone faceoffs.

The Bruins, or any other contender, shouldn't overpay for Gustafsson. He's not a two-way player, and he's not worth a second-round draft pick, but a third-rounder (or lower) or a middle-tier prospect wouldn't be a bad price.

Haggerty: Kreider remains top trade target for B's when time comes

Bruins' roster moves to shake off recent malaise pay instant dividends

Bruins' roster moves to shake off recent malaise pay instant dividends

BOSTON — The Bruins were stuck in neutral for much of the last six weeks while comfortably in first place in the Atlantic Division and coming off last year’s Stanley Cup Final appearance.

So Bruins management decided to act by switching things up on their NHL roster a bit, and Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights was the latest evidence of those moves bearing some fruit.

The changes and roster alterations certainly aren’t done, as an NHL roster is a living, breathing thing that changes due to needs and external factors, but for now the addition of Karson Kuhlman, Anton Blidh and Jeremy Lauzon while subtracting Brett Ritchie, David Backes and Steve Kampfer gave the Bruins a winning combination on the ice.

Now the Bruins head into the 10-day All-Star weekend and bye week break with a comfortable eight-point lead in the division and a chance to hit the reset button after some truly ghastly losses over the last six weeks.

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“I’ll be very open, is we decided a couple of weeks ago or whatever it was that we needed a little more internal competition. Usually, that starts from the bottom up," said Bruce Cassidy. "We identified some guys in Providence that were playing well. [Blidh] was one of that was hurt at the start of the year that we were going to look at in training camp. I think we discussed that; we thought he was a lot closer than he was maybe a couple of years ago, so that was something that was going to be in the works when he was ready.

"We did it with [Karson] Kuhlman. [Jeremy] Lauzon, we took a veteran out in [John] Moore, so [Kuhlman] came up in place of however you want to look at it. That was a bit by design these last two weeks to see if it will give us a little extra push, so we’ll see where it leads us.”

The 9-7-7 record since Dec. 5 isn’t very impressive when compared to what they did in October and November, but it’s also the only level of play required for the Bruins to still surpass 100 points this season and protect a playoff spot that’s pretty much guaranteed at this point.

Maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning will catch them with three games in hand, but it’s still very much in Boston’s control to win or lose the division based on the way the Bruins approach the final 31 games of the season over the next three months.

That was part of what factored into a very clear malaise that swept over the Bruins roster in recent weeks. It was behind a number of blown three-goal leads that had been unheard of for these recent Bruins teams, and it was at the heart of a number of disinterested, disengaged and losing performances against some of the NHL’s worst teams in Ottawa, Detroit, New Jersey, Chicago and Los Angeles over the course of the first half.

It hasn’t all magically disappeared as the Bruins didn’t get off to a roaring start against Vegas on Tuesday night, but Lauzon brought some added toughness around the net, physicality with four hits and he also chipped in an unexpected goal in his season debut. Kuhlman logged a pair of assists in his return to the lineup a few games ago, and now it looks like the Bruins are going to try him with David Krejci and Danton Heinen on a different-looking second line.

Kuhlman, Heinen and Krejci all ended up on the score sheet on Tuesday night with both Krejci and Kuhlman winning board battles that led to Lauzon’s goal from the point, and all three forwards were again on ice for Krejci's game-winner in the third period.

Afterward, Krejci was overflowing in his praise for his new cerebral, hustling linemates while also deserving some of his own for overcoming a cranky back with a multi-point effort after he’d missed essentially a week of action with the injury.

“They are very smart. It’s fun to play with smart guys. They make plays. It doesn’t work all the time, but the effort is there. You can always do better, overall I thought it was pretty good,” said Krejci. “All three of us are pretty smart on that line, and we’ve played together before so we all know what to expect from each other. It was working well tonight and I was happy to get the ‘W.’”

Blidh had a quiet game with three hits and a shot on net in less than 10 minutes of ice time, but he was no more or less of a factor than Ritchie had been in a half-season where he never distinguished himself in any way for the Black and Gold. And it’s clear that both Blidh and Chris Wagner have been tasked with upping the physical factor and the agitation level to get the Bruins more engaged in games where they might otherwise lean toward indifferent mode against opponents that don’t exactly get the blood boiling on their own.

That being said, the Bruins also know that the time for mental or physical fatigue in the regular-season grind is pretty much over now. The Bruins have just 31 games remaining in the season after a 10-day break, they have a trade deadline next month where they will most assuredly pick up an added player or two, and they have just a few months to prepare for a playoff run that will come with considerable expectations based on last season’s playoff run.

“People talk. [The media] talks, but we know how we want to play and we know if we’re good or if we’re bad. At the end of the day we’ve got 70 points and we’re sitting at the top of the division. So we’re happy with where we’re at,” said Krejci. “But we know the stretch [run] is going to be most important.

“Everybody will be playing their best hockey in February and March to make the playoffs, or teams that aren’t in the playoffs are playing for their jobs. So it’s going to be much harder, but it’s also much more exciting.”

The Bruins hope some of their recent adjustments have addressed the ennui that very clearly crept into the hockey club over the last couple of months, but the circumstances facing them once they get going again in a couple of weeks might just do that all by itself.