WILMINGTON – There is clearly a long way to go before it becomes a reality, but it was telling that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli wouldn’t rule out 18-year-old first round pick David Pastrnak possibly cracking the NHL lineup this fall. The GM simply said “You never know” when presented with the scenario, and just four years underwent the same process with a similarly-sized Tyler Seguin as an elite hockey talent that also happened to be a teenager.
In terms of formalities, the Bruins have to sign Pastrnak to a rookie entry level contract and make arrangements for him to be at training camp in September, and would have to figure something out with the Swedish League given that the player still has one year on his European contract.
Chiarelli didn’t seem overly anxious that any of those things would be a major stumbling block, and said “if I can sign him, then he’ll be in training camp.”
“There’s a progression right? There’s the camp: ‘bigger, stronger, faster.’ There’s the preseason: ‘bigger, stronger, faster.’ And there’s the under-20 players you’ve got that cushion, you’ve got those nine games again ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ regular season,” said Chiarelli. “There’s three levels there and in my time here -- and before I was here -- we’ve had under 20-players play, I’ve had been part of under-20 players playing, teenagers, and they go through each of their stages, and it’s another test, another test and then you make the decision.”
For his part, Pastrnak is excited for whatever comes next, and was happy with the way things went for him standing out among the B’s best 23 prospects invited to camp.
“I think we all wanted to come here and play our very best, and I think it was a good week,” said Pastrnak. “I don’t know what the next step will be for me, but it was great to wear [the B’s jersey] this week.”
The Czech Republic native would also have to prove he can handle the NHL pounding at 170 pounds as a teenager in a big step up in competition levels. There’s no way to overstate how big that challenge will be for the gifted right shot winger. But he also showed the kind of offensive abilities – whether it was shooting, skating, passing or creating offensive plays by using all three with some nifty hockey sense – that have only been seen at the eight Bruins development camps when a teenaged Tyler Seguin attended four years ago.
“You never know. You don’t want to place too much of a burden on this kid’s shoulders, but he was good. The hesitation you have is that he’s 170 -173 pounds, but he’s wiry strong, so you never know,” said Chiarelli. “Speed, skill, sense is all there. It would be nice [if Pastrnak can crack the NHL lineup in camp], but we’ll see. But he’s young and to throw someone like that at that age, at that weight [isn’t common], but there have been guys who have done it.”
Pastrnak certainly has things in his game he needs to work on as a hugely talented forward at the very beginning of his pro hockey journey. Maturity on and off the ice will be a big one for such a young player that has never experienced anything like the intensity of the NHL world. But Pastrnak clearly has a joy for the game that he plays with each time he’s on the ice, and that kind of energy could be a great thing for a team full of established veterans like the Black and Gold.
He favored the toe drag move on defenders as he wheeled through traffic en route to the net, and he’ll need to mix it up a bit against savvy, strong NHL players paid big bags of money to stop that sort of thing. He’ll also need to be careful about being a little too carefree taking pucks to areas of the ice where predatory players will be looking to “discourage” him.
But the kinds of names that were being tossed around as comparisons during the week of development camp was no joke, and Pastrnak was head and shoulders above everybody else during the camp. The only other time that’s happened in the eight year history of the camp was four years ago with Seguin, and perhaps in it’s first edition when a precocious David Krejci was toying with a group of rookies, prospects and undrafted free agents.
“There’s a reason he’s a first round draft pick. He reminds me a little bit of when Tyler [Seguin] was here at his first development camps again,” said Providence Bruins coach and B’s development camp instructor Bruce Cassidy. “And Alexander Semin I had years ago [in Washington], those quick guys that can really shoot it off without a lot of time or wasting a lot of time, and make those little tight area plays.”
The best thing Pastrnak has going for him: the circumstances surrounding both him and the Bruins. Boston is in need of a cap-friendly solution on the right side after watching Jarome Iginla leave for the Colorado Avalanche via free agency, and Pastrnak looks, shoots, skates, passes and carries himself like a top-six forward with a sizzling right-handed shot that is going to score his share of goals. The speed and skill of Pastrnak is something the Bruins are sorely lacking up front, and it’s always more desirable to fill a team need in-house rather than through free agency (too expensive) or via the trade market (too costly).
In a different season under a different cap situation, the Bruins might have the luxury of holding off on Pastrnak until he’s eaten a few more Porterhouse steaks, and packed a few more pounds on his wiry frame. But Pastrnak might become the perfect solution to the B’s imperfect problem if all the stars align this fall, and he passes the rigorous rounds of testing in training camp, preseason and then the nine game “bigger, faster, stronger” audition amid the NHL regular season.