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.