WILMINGTON – It wasn’t so long ago that Patrice Bergeron was the unsure 18-year-old kid fresh off being drafted by an NHL team, and aiming to make that club on his first time out. Bergeron did that in the 2003-04 season, and spent that year as the youngest player in the NHL learning on the job, and surprising a group of veterans that included Joe Thornton, Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston and Sergei Gonchar.
Now Bergeron is the 29-year-old leader armed with a stopwatch and whistle at captain’s practice, and 2014 first round pick David Pastrnak is the 18-year-old skating with the big boys. The B’s alternate captain got a good look at the Czech Republic right wing while skating with him at informal sessions at Boston University last week, and likes what he sees.
“I saw him last week, he was at BU skating, I've seen him a few times. He's very fast, skilled, he battles hard,” said Bergeron. “I know it's early, but he seems to be really hard on the puck and wants it, so you know, it's great to have, he seems to be a great player. All of the young guys that we have right now are pushing for spots. It's healthy competition, I think you need that, especially in training camp.”
Pastrnak was the 25th overall selection by the Bruins back in late June, and he’s wowed during brilliant performances at Bruins Development Camp, and then for the Czech Republic in the under-20 world championships. The Bruins signed him to an entry level deal in July and haven’t ruled out Pastrnak potentially making the NHL roster based on his sizzling shot, quick release, excellent puck skills and playmaking with good skating speed to boot.
The question will be whether Pastrnak can handle the physical battles within the NHL game at 171 pounds as a teenager. Bergeron was bigger and stronger than Pastrnak at the same age, and had some advantages over the new phenom waiting for rookie camp to begin on Sept. 11. Clearly the Bruins have a need for a talented right wing with both Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton moving on in free agency over the summer.
But it’s fairly long odds that Pastrnak will clear all hurdles and be a regular in the NHL this season, but Bergeron stands as proof that it can be done if preparation, work ethic, talent and a little luck all converge at the same time.