Playing with a dynamic duo like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is not easy. The task entails strong puck pursuit, assertiveness on offensive zone cycles and odd-man rushes and being sound defensively.
David Pastrnak had a few of those traits down before being a top line staple for good in 2017-18. With his impressive scoring touch and offensive creativity, the Bruins found that missing piece to skate with Bergeron and Marchand to form the best threesome in the National Hockey League.
Though he improved in certain areas without the puck, Pastrnak knew he needed to be better in other aspects to develop into a three-zone player. The 2014 first round pick worked on those traits, including puck pursuit and corner battles, during the off-season.
Pastrnak’s hard work is already paying off with an illustrious start to the 2018-19 campaign. The talented Czech winger and reigning NHL first star of the week sits atop the league leaderboard with 16 goals in 17 games.
“Yeah, I mean, I said it a couple times – it’s so easy to get better in these kinds of places, in the D zone and stuff,” Pastrnak said about his improvements away from the puck. “When I play with Bergy, he won a Selke, he’s a great defensive player and so I say it’s easy for me to learn. I’ve been playing with him for a while, so I’m so much more comfortable there and just making the right play and don’t look back.”
“I think that’s something that he’s worked on a lot the last few years, and he’s really developing his game all around. It pays dividends for him and for our line,” Bergeron added about Pastrnak’s growth. “It’s great to see, and he’s obviously a great talent, and he’s so good at getting open. So, when you add being tenacious on the puck and winning battles, that makes a big difference.”
Bergeron, the league’s second-leading point producer with 25 (entering Monday’s slate), knows a thing or two about those puck battles. After all, he is just one Selke Award away from most in NHL history.
Pastrnak is not only making plays in all three zones but also building strength and confidence in the corner. Take for instance, the Bruins’ first goal against the Maple Leafs Saturday night. Pastrnak got a step off a Toronto faceoff win and shoved off defenseman Morgan Reilly to gain puck possession. That little bit of separation created space for Pastrnak to cycle behind the net and saucer a pass over Ron Hainsey’s reach and onto Bergeron’s stick for the tip-in.
Patrice Bergeron gets the #NHLBruins on the board first!
Bruce Cassidy has the best seat watching Pastrnak’s development, beginning in Providence. His assist on Bergeron’s ninth of the season is a small sample size of the growth Cassidy has seen through Pastrnak’s five professional seasons.
“I think just, honestly, stronger on the puck. Before he’d try his one-on-one moves and he’d get pushed off, and I don’t think he had the strength to battle like Marchy does, for example. So, when he gets second or third effort opportunities to make plays, I think it’s physical maturity to be honest with you. A little more willing to hang in front of the net,” Cassidy said about Pastrnak’s evolution following the 5-1 win over the Leafs.
“That’s the Bergy effect. I think he’s built that into both his wingers, hey when it’s your turn to get there, get there. You’re not going to live there. Had a bit of a set play, back-door play on the power play. Toronto does expose the front of the net. Pasta was willing to go there, and he got rewarded. It’s those two things. A little more net presence and physically stronger.”
No one categorizes Pastrnak as a gritty player. Yet a little bit of physicality in his hockey DNA is critical to leap from the talented prospect ranks into one of the NHL’s elite goal scorers.
This weekend’s slate was a perfect example. The tone-setting assist on Bergeron’s goal Saturday night later evolved into Pastrnak’s second hat trick of the season. He picked up right where he left off the next night with a back-breaking third period 5V3 power-play tally against the Golden Knights to give the Bruins a 4-1 lead over the reigning Western Conference champions.
“The way that he’s playing his position is really transforming him, not just good offensively but a good two-way player,” Marchand said about Pastrnak. “Every team has good guys offensively but if you’re able to get those top guys to buy in defensively and play a two-way game that’s what you need to win. He’s going to be the future of the franchise so for him to play that way it only pushes everyone to play even better.”
David Pastrnak is indeed an important member of the Bruins’ future. He’s also one the core players of the present.
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