David Pastrnak brought the smile and the energetic charisma during Friday night’s Skills Competition at NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis. Then on Saturday, Pastrnak brought the dazzling hockey skills to become only the fourth Bruins player in franchise history to win All-Star MVP with his four goals and six points in the 3-on-3 tourney at Enterprise Center.
It was all the more impressive as it was in a losing effort with his Atlantic Division squad falling to the Pacific Division in the final game.
The 23-year-old Pastrnak joins Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Bill Guerin in a very select Black and Gold group and adds another NHL milestone to a career that’s already building up with impressive accomplishments at such a precocious hockey age. Pastrnak was appropriately humble and thankful afterward while making a nod toward an accomplishment that will make for a nice trophy in his Pasta mancave someday.
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“It was a blast here,” said Pastrnak, who joked before the game about wearing the “C” on his jersey and how heavy it was going to feel for the first time. “I would expect someone from the winning team should be MVP, but if I was voted in by the fans I appreciate it. I appreciated the love. We were here this weekend for [the fans].”
Certainly, Pastrnak deserves accolades for the way he turned a wide-open 3-on-3 competition among the world’s best hockey players in his own personal skill showcase. He’s that good at making breathtaking offensive plays when he’s got the time and space to operate, create and execute what he wants to do in his beautiful hockey mind.
But as much as the All-Star MVP served as icing on the midseason cake for a player in Pastrnak that’s on a pace for 60 goals and 113 points this season, there is still a lot for the young Bruins right winger to prove moving forward. He was an All-Star last year too and on a pace for massive offensive numbers before an off-the-ice mishap after a team function led him to tear the ligaments in his thumb, and never allowed him to get back to that level when he returned ahead of the playoffs.
Pastrnak played just 15 games after the All-Star break and managed totals of nine goals and 19 points in 24 playoff games along with an even plus/minus rating, a stat line for the postseason that seemed okay all things considered. But he was a boom-or-bust player that ended up going scoreless in 12 of those 24 playoff games and finished a minus-7 in the Stanley Cup Final with just two goals and four points, and only one of those points coming during 5-on-5 play.
Pastrnak at times shied away from contact, he flailed at many of his one-timer chances that he would normally bury during the regular season and he seemed to pass up shooting opportunities that were there for him at times. The young winger admitted after the series that A) his thumb was bothering him still and B) he learned some lessons about toughing up mentally in situations where he was being challenged to elevate his game.
“It was definitely tough. I wasn’t feeling great, but that’s why this was such a good group because we were always picking each other up. 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],” said Pastrnak, back in June after the Cup Final was over in comments that bear repeating given how much of a target he’s going to be for opponents moving forward this season. “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. 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 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.”
It's all normal stuff for a developing NHL superstar and all the great ones go through it. But it’s time for Pastrnak to make that next step and be the dazzling, game-breaking force he was at NHL All-Star weekend when he’s playing against tough, physical opponents in the postseason that are determined to stop him.
The only way the Bruins are going to beat teams like Tampa or Washington the playoffs, in this humble hockey writer’s opinion, is if they get true scoring depth or if a player like Pastrnak goes supernova offensively against teams that are deeper, bigger and stronger than the Black and Gold lineup-wise.
Pastrnak is the ultimate X-Factor given his skill set and his utter explosiveness, and his commanding lead in the goal-scoring department over players like Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid shows his ability to take over games. The true superstars do it when it matters most in the playoffs, and that is the true final hurdle for Pastrnak to surpass in a career that’s already portending hockey greatness at 23 years old.
The stage is set with the Bruins in first place and just 31 games remaining in the regular season, and now it’s up to Pasta to be Pasta at the most important time of year.