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David Pastrnak is a serious threat to Alex Ovechkin's Rocket Richard run

While Ovechkin has won the trophy five of the past six seasons, a new challenger has arisen. And Pastrnak isn't just close to 'Ovie,' he's actually ahead right now. Here's how the young Czech has gotten the most out of his NHL experience so far.

It’s gotta be at least a little bit intimidating to be in a goal-scoring race with one of, if not the, greatest of all-time, but Boston’s David Pastrnak is giving Washington’s Alex Ovechkin all he can handle in that department.

Ovechkin has dazzled the hockey world with his net-pumping proficiency this season, registering three hat tricks in his past eight appearances and finding himself on the cusp of 700 career goals; an unmistakably incredible feat.

Having said that, Pastrnak currently leads the NHL with 41 goals, thanks in part to the hat trick he just laid on top of a dying Montreal Canadiens team on Wednesday night. And while Toronto’s Auston Matthews is tied with Ovechkin for second with 40 goals, let’s just take a minute to appreciate how incredible Pastrnak has been this season for the Bruins.

With 81 points, the young Czech is 10 points clear of linemate Brad Marchand for the team scoring lead. Even more incredible is the fact Pastrnak has twice as many points as David Krejci, who sits fourth in Bruins scoring. So it’s no surprise that Pastrnak is in a dogfight for NHL scoring supremacy.

But ask Pastrnak how he stacks up and he’ll demur.

“I’m not racing anybody, I’m just playing hockey,” he said. “I’m trying to help my team win and I don’t care about the outcome of my goals or points. It’s fun to score; that’s what I’m getting paid for and that’s my biggest strength – being an offensive player. But I’m not focusing on any scoring race.”

While that’s a good, humble, hockey answer, some of us need narratives to build around and Pastrnak’s massive season is a pretty good one. Not only has the talented right winger tied his career-best for points in a season, but he’s still got 24 more games to add to a new high. And since Boston is fending off a hard-charging Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division, there’s no reason for Pastrnak to take his foot off the gas down the stretch – the Bruins need every point they can get in order to secure home ice through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Heck, doing so would also win them the Presidents’ Trophy in all likelihood (they’re five points up on the next-closest division leader, though Washington does have two games in hand), so just call it home ice throughout.

So yes; more goals from Pastrnak would help. And if the 23-year-old hits another milestone along the way, all the better.

“If he’s scoring, he’s helping the team,” said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. “I’d like to see him get 50. It’s a good number, a good accomplishment.”

As for how Pastrnak got to this point, it’s not just natural skill; though he has that in abundance. As a kid in the Czech Republic, Pastrnak’s ice time was limited – that was just the reality back home. But in the NHL, he can skate and practise basically as much as he wants.

“After practice you can stay as long as you want, before practice you can go as early as you want,” Pastrnak said. “It’s amazing. Growing up as a kid in Czech, you would have ice from 11am to 12pm. You had to be there exactly at 11 and get off right at 12. So this is fun – shooting pucks and scoring goals is fun.”

No one is going to debate him on that point. Now, the debate over whether Pastrnak can snatch the Rocket Richard Trophy from eight-time winner Ovechkin, or fend off Matthews, whom Toronto needs to be huge down the stretch? That’s also fun…for all of us watching.

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