The Boston Bruins need some heroes right now. Tenuously holding on to the final wild card slot in the East, there is little margin of error for the B's, which is why David Pastrnak's overtime goal against lowly Carolina was so crucial Sunday night.
That tally, plus an Ottawa loss, gave Boston a bit of breathing room, but it also illustrated just how great the Bruins did in plucking Pastrnak 25th overall this past summer in the draft.
The Czech national, who played against men in Sweden last season, has brought a great helping of secondary scoring to the Bruins, notching 25 points in 40 games since he arrived around Christmas time (how fitting!) from AHL Providence, where he had been tearing it up. In terms of possession numbers, Pastrnak ranks sixth in the whole NHL when it comes to relative shot attempts percentage, counting players who have at least 40 games played this season. And he has been hot lately, when the B's have needed him most, with six points in his past six games.
Had he played the whole season in the NHL, his points-per-game rate would have translated into about 47 points – which would put him behind only Patrice Bergeron in team scoring – but that arithmetic's a little too simplistic.
Pastrnak's time in the AHL was valuable to him, as was his run with the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship in Toronto. In fact, when I spoke to him at the world juniors, he was still getting used to the North American game in Providence, even though he was putting up more than a point per game with the P-Bruins.
“It’s definitely different hockey,” Pastrnak said. “I try to do my best, but sometimes it doesn’t go well and you feel bad. I have to get better with everything. I’m not satisfied right now.”
Talk about a high bar to clear. Since that statement, Pastrnak has been a crucial cog for the Bruins, who have dealt with a big injury up front to David Krejci, not to mention less production in varying degrees from Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg year over year.
Pastrnak doesn't have the gross numbers to compete with the likes of Filip Forsberg and Johnny Gaudreau for the Calder Trophy (especially since defenseman Aaron Ekblad is another strong candidate), plus the Bruins have sheltered his minutes in terms of zone starts and quality of competition, but he's 18 – that's understandable. And I have a feeling the Bruins are just happy to see him coming along so quickly.
At the world juniors, he was the Czech Republic's best player every time I saw them – and I saw them a lot. Not only was there the skill and speed to contend with, but Pastrnak had an iron will and drive that could not be missed. Overall, the Czechs disappointed this year due to a letdown in the quarterfinal against their cousins from Slovakia (and yes, Denis Godla was good in net for Slovakia, but that wasn't the sole reason). But I could never fault Pastrnak.
So much is in flux now for the Bruins and whether or not they make the playoffs is the Rubicon. If they miss, does management clear out some of the older core and start to think of the future? Then Pastrnak becomes integral. If not, they still have a great top-six scoring forward on their hands for the playoffs and they'll need him – especially if Boston draws the Montreal Canadiens, who have owned them this year.