BRIGHTON, Mass. — David Pastrnak made his long-awaited debut at Bruins camp on Wednesday and will undoubtedly be back at his usual spot at right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the unstoppable Perfection Line when the entire group takes the ice together on Thursday.
Unfortunately, it looks like that’s going to be the biggest fanfare when it comes to No. 88 over the next couple of weeks. The NHL’s leading goal-scorer and the B’s first Rocket Richard Trophy winner was overlooked for the Ted Lindsay Award when the three finalists of Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon and Artemi Panarin were announced by the NHLPA on Tuesday.
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The award is voted on by the players, of course, so it was interesting that Pasta didn’t make the cut this time around. But it will also likely will serve as a preview of Hart Trophy finalists for the NHL’s MVP when they are announced later this week. The expectation is Pastrnak will once again be left out in the cold for national NHL award recognition despite numbers equal or better to Panarin, and superior stats in just about every category when compared with MacKinnon.
Even Pastrnak himself said he would have voted for Draisaitl as the Hart winner if it was up to him when talking about it with reporters a few weeks ago.
“For me, it’s absolutely no question,” said Pastrnak. “For me, Leon Draisaitl was showing up the whole season. A lot of people say, ‘Oh he’s playing with Connor (McDavid).’ Connor was hurt for a month and he brought it up even another level. For me, it’s absolutely no question it’s going to be and should be Leon Draisaitl. The way he played this year is absolutely no question for me.”
It feels like it should also be “no question” that Pastrnak deserves to be one of the finalists for these awards.
Sometimes when it comes to the NHL Awards, players start earning nominations and votes a year after they break through into the national hockey media consciousness. That may happen with Pastrnak even as he led the Bruins with 48 goals scored after basically leading the league wire-to-wire this season. Pastrnak finished tied for third with 95 points in 70 games played, led the NHL with 20 power play goals and finished tied with Draisaitl with an impressive 10 game-winning goals on his résumé.
Panarin had as many points and more assists than Pastrnak along with a better plus/minus, but one could argue it wasn’t even for a playoff team with the Russian playmaker because the Rangers wouldn’t have made the cut if it weren’t for the unique 24-team tournament this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pastrnak had more goals, more assists, more points, a better plus/minus, and more points per game than MacKinnon, who also played on a very talented line with players like Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog for most of the season in Colorado.
So what’s the big reason that Pastrnak isn’t getting the credit he’s due?
Some of it is that he’s just 23 years old and still emerging as one of the NHL’s best players. But the biggest reason is that NHL Awards voters — and his peers — are discounting his accomplishments because he skates on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The argument goes that the other players are more valuable to their teams because the quality of the roster, and their teammates, isn’t as high as it is with the Bruins and the Perfection Line.
The truth when it comes to Pastrnak and rating him?
The right winger drives that Perfection Line for the Bruins these days. Of course, Patrice Bergeron is the two-way anchor and the best defensive forward in the league who's also become a perennial 30-goal scorer in recent seasons. And Marchand is a Hart Trophy-level player in his own right these days in the prime of his NHL career.
But it’s Pastrnak who has become the driving offensive force and game-breaking phenomenon on that line, and for the entire Bruins team.
Only MacKinnon, Alex Ovechkin, Max Pacioretty and Auston Matthews generate more shots on net than Pastrnak, and Pastrnak is now the biggest power play weapon in the entire NHL at this point in his career. Pasta finished with four more PP goals than anybody else in the league and is the focal point offensively for the Bruins at both 5-on-5 play and on special teams.
Panarin had a 40-goal scorer as a teammate in Mika Zibanejad on the Rangers this season, and as mentioned earlier, MacKinnon spent pockets of this season on a similar “super line” with Rantanen and Landeskog.
So why is Pastrnak getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment when it comes to his teammates and fighting for NHL Awards respect after leading the NHL in goals scored all season?
Perhaps we’ll all be surprised and Pastrnak will get his just due when the Hart Trophy winners are announced. More likely, he’s paying his dues this season for national recognition when he had a chance to be only the third player in the last 20 years to hit the 60-goal mark if he’d gotten hot in the final month of the regular season (had it been played).
It's a damn shame Pastrnak won't be recognized more for this season's greatness.
The good news: Pastrnak is 23 years old and just scratching the surface of how dominant he’s going to be for the next 10 years or so. But it’s too bad that one of the best Bruins seasons in the franchise’s near-100-year history is going to be largely ignored by NHL Awards voters who should have been paying more respect to the best right winger in the league these days.