Eighteen-year-old David Pastrnak took the hockey world by storm recently. First it was his dynamic play at the World Junior Championships, then his four-goal outburst against the Flyers and Lightning following his call-up to the big club- “Pasta” was making his mark on the National Hockey League. But if the Boston Bruins, who have now turned things around with the help of the rookie, are serious about winning a Cup, they will add more to this team.
Pastrnak, at least temporarily, has helped David Krejci and Milan Lucic regain their first line form. Starting with the Philadelphia matinee, the line’s looked better than it has all year, and there’s no doubting that Pastrnak was the needed spark to get them going. But since then, the rookie has come back down to earth, and reality is starting to set in. While Pastrnak can absolutely help this club, the young, undersized forward has a long way to go before carrying the team to another Stanley Cup victory.
“He’s showcased his skill level, he showcased his speed. But as you saw tonight, too, there’s some heavy game where it’s a bit more of a challenge for a player,” coach Claude Julien said of his rookie following the Rangers game.
The most obvious, biggest concern for the rookie moving forward is his size- how he can hold up skating against top line NHL defensemen, the biggest players he’s ever faced; and furthermore, if a playoff berth is earned, how he can handle the tight-checking, physical play of springtime hockey. But the Coach agrees that his skill-set is too high for him to be sent back down to Providence, at least for now.
“He’s definitely a great player. I think we all want him here. The decision that was made was pretty unanimous as far as should we keep him past the 10-game mark. As far as I was concerned as a coach, I wanted him on my team. I think management felt the same way. They had to look at different situations, obviously the 10 games and what it does, everything else. But at the end of the day, the consensus was this guy belongs here and it’s gonna be up to me to manage it the way I should manage it, help him continue to improve and grow and get some experience, and if he has some tough nights make sure I don’t expose him. That’s part of a young player who’s only 18 years old, that’s part of his development and us doing the right thing for him.”
Following an underwhelming loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on home-ice, the Bruins rebounded with a gutsy come-from-behind victory over Tyler Seguin and the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.
Pastrnak, who’s been faulty of forced passes at both ends of the ice and dominated physically at times, has seen his ice-time drop steadily. Even the Reilly Smith and Dan Paille’s of the world could be seen taking shifts alongside Krejci and Lucic during the third period of Tuesday’s game.
Though coach Claude Julien maintained that it was purely circumstantial, as the team needed their best players on the ice at all times to earn a crucial two points before the all-star break. This isn’t your typical conference-dominating Boston hockey team, the Bruins are in the thick of the playoff hunt and need as much help as they can get. We’ve seen Julien take uncharacteristic, desperate measures this season and that’s something that will continue after the break.
One of the most disappointing, mind-boggling decisions of the offseason was the trade of Johnny Boychuk for salary cap purposes. While it seems that problem could have been solved dealing away other parts of the roster, the Bruins dealt away arguably their second best defenseman for two second round draft picks. Relying on an aging Zdeno Chara, and post ACL-injury Dennis Seidenberg, the season got off to as ugly of a start as expected, and things only got worse when the captain went down with a knee injury of his own.
Now that Chara is closer to 100%, and Seidenberg is playing a bit better, the team has regained some of their defensive identity. However, if the team is serious about winning a cup, acquiring a top-two or top-four defenseman should now be the number one priority of General Manager Peter Chiarelli.
Much of the trade chatter surrounding the Bruins this season has revolved around acquiring a right-shot, right-winger to play with Krejci and Lucic; and while that’s still a valid concern, with the help of Pastrnak, and continuing improved play of the Carl Soderberg-Loui Eriksson third line duo, that focus must shift to defense.
Even when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, they weren’t a score first hockey club. This team has consistently been at its best when it’s been defensively suffocating, almost downright impossible to score against at times. Now, its unlikely a single move would help them regain that 2011 Championship form, but if this team is going to win anything, its going to happen on the back end- as they are much closer to becoming a championship caliber defensive club, rather than one that’s going to score its way through the playoffs and into the Stanley Cup Final.
If Chiarelli is keen on adding some size up front that makes sense- but if he’s going to “break bank” for a player, do so on the back end. Being stuck in the middle, not having an identity, is no place for a championship-caliber club to be. If the Bruins can build back up a top-tier defensive core, they will be much closer to achieving their ultimate goal.