Last summer, Pastrnak came to Boston for the first time in his life. He signed his first pro contract. About nine months later, he was a key cog in the Bruins’ lineup, a fan favorite and, eventually, the recipient of the Seventh Player Award.
“It’s a big difference [from] last year,” Pastrnak said following Tuesday’s informal practice at Ristuccia Arena. “I feel a little bit more confident in the locker room and on the ice, and I think it helps me.
“Last year, I was coming here and I didn’t know anyone; now, I’m coming here and I have some friends here, so it’s making it easier — everything, all around. So I feel really good.”
Now, after having had a few months away from hockey to process it all, things are different. Pastrnak is one year older. He has half a season of NHL experience under his belt. There are plenty of familiar faces in the Boston dressing room, and plenty of those players are close personal friends.
And yet, despite all that, this year is the same as last year in one big way.
“On the one side, it’s completely different, and on the other side, I feel kind of the same: I’m coming here with the same goal, like last year,” Pastrnak said. “Just enjoy the time with the guys, and try and make the team.”
No longer is Pastrnak a wide-eyed rookie. Entering his second season with Boston, he knows precisely what to expect.
“I’ve always heard a lot of times, the second season in the NHL is the worst one,” he said. “But I can’t change [anything]. I just worked out in the summer, same as like I did last year. I can’t change anything else. I just have to work hard every day.”
That gameplan worked out pretty well for Pastrnak last year. In the first pro season of his career, the then-18-year-old electrified the Bruins faithful with his playmaking, his energy and his enthusiasm. He made believers out of his teammates and his coaches.
This summer, when he returned to his hometown of Havirov in the Czech Republic, he was no longer an anonymous teenager with NHL aspirations. He was a star.
“When I’ve been back home in my hometown, Havirov — it’s a pretty small town, and it was going a little crazy, but I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was the town where I learned to play hockey, where I started.”
But still, Pastrnak refuses to take anything for granted. In his eyes, a spot on the 2015-16 roster is not guaranteed. It is something he must earn.
“It’s hockey,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the league, and we just need to focus on ourselves and work hard every day and get better.”
Even when asked whose line he might like to play on this year, Pastrnak refused to bite.
“It’s too early; it’s only the first [of] September,” he said. “We’ll start from the [training] camp, and I’ll come in here to make the team, and we can talk more about [it].”
When pressed, though, Pastrnak couldn’t deny that he loved playing alongside countryman and idol David Krejci for parts of last year. Given the opportunity, he said, he would love to be Krejci’s right wing once again.
“We have country chemistry and we have on-the-ice chemistry,” he said. “I would love to play with Krech. It’s something different when you can play with a player like Krejci.”
Last year, Pastrnak got a firsthand look at what it takes to be successful in this league. He knows what it feels like to absorb a hit from a 220-pound NHL player. He knows what it feels like to score an NHL goal in front of a stadium full of thousands of screaming fans.
And as a result, he spent this summer making sure he is in an even better position to succeed.
Pastrnak didn’t alter much with regards to his offseason training routine. He just made sure to be in the gym — a lot — trying to get bigger, get stronger.
After just two days of informal skates with his teammates, he can feel a difference, even if the scale doesn’t necessarily agree.
“When I step on the [scale], it’s showing still 181,” he said with a smile. “So we’ll see where we can get before camp.
“Obviously, I’ve been working out all summer, so I feel pretty strong on the ice, but we still don’t have to forget that I’m a skill player, so I can’t be the strongest guy on the ice.”
Last year, it didn’t take Pastrnak very long at all to learn his role. It took him even less time to execute that role on the ice.
And after taking five months off to reflect on a disappointing end to his first pro season, he is eager to add to it.
“I find that I feel pretty good, and happy I could come [back to Boston] earlier here because it was a long summer,” he said. “I think there was enough, and happy to be back here and work on my weaknesses.”