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Pastrnak Showed His Potential

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - When the wide-smiled, long-haired 18-year-old David Pastrnak was selected 25th overall by the Bruins last June at the NHL Draft, it was hard to imagine what his future might hold.

Would he stay in Sweden? Would he play in the American Hockey League? Was he ready for the NHL?

In his mind, he knew his dream. He would do whatever he could to make it to the NHL.

"There’s a lot of things I have to work on and I will do that," Pastrnak said moments after being drafted. "And I hope I can get better and make the Bruins proud that they picked me first."

Much has happened since then for Pastrnak.

He ventured to Boston for the very first time that July and attended the club's development camp. He continued on to rookie camp, training camp, and eventually, the Providence Bruins.

The right winger spent nearly all of the first half of the season in Providence, transitioning to the North American pro game. In December, he suited up for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship.

Once Pastrnak returned, he joined Boston for the rest of the season.

Though he still had plenty to work on, especially in the defensive zone and battling stronger players, he dazzled with the same skills and speed that had first impressed the Bruins' brass at the summer's development camp.

Overall, he put up 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points and a plus-12 rating in his first 46 NHL games, forming chemistry with Milan Lucic and Ryan Spooner. He received NESN's Seventh Player Award, voted on by Bruins fans and given to the Bruin who exceeded the expectations of fans during the season.

When the big club didn't make the postseason, Pastrnak joined the P-Bruins for theirs.

Collectively, he played in 79 games in 2014-15, and that's not even counting preseason or rookie games.

For an NHL player, that's a standard workload.

For Pastrnak, it was a whirlwind.

During his previous two seasons, he had appeared in a combined 109 games for Sodertalje in Sweden and for the Czech Republic in international action, playing 59 games in 2012-13 and 50 in 2013-14.

"It's been a long season, you know," Pastrnak told after Boston's season had come to an end. "A lot of stuff happening this year and I enjoyed once playing in Providence and then later called up here."

"I'm happy I can play hockey and that's all - that's what I focus on. It was a tough year and a lot of stuff happened, but I wish we were playing hockey a little more."

Pastrnak suited up for three playoff games with Providence. In Game Three, he sustained a hip injury that kept him out for Game Four and Game Five, in which Hartford ended the P-Bruins' playoff run with an overtime win. The injury was not expected to be major, as he was able to do off-ice workouts by the end of the series.

But it's not so much how Pastrnak finished the season that is notable. It was a disappointing end for every Bruin. It was the fact that he had even made it to the NHL - and made a difference - in the first place.

Pastrnak was the youngest player in both the NHL and the AHL in 2014-15. He was one of only three players drafted in 2014 to see sustained time in the NHL this season, along with first overall pick, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (81 games played) and forward Leon Draisaiti, who suited up in 37 games for Edmonton.

"When the draft came, in the summer I went 25 to become a Bruin, so that means 24 teams passed on me, you know," said Pastrnak, reflecting on the draft. "And I think that’s something that pushed me pretty much to work hard - once I will get to the NHL, just show the other teams they did wrong."

"And I’m happy the Bruins trusted in myself, and I’m trying to give it to them back."

After his first NHL season and a lengthy season overall, Pastrnak could look back on the experience, knowing that he made significant strides as a player, on and off the ice.

"There have been a lot of things in that ten months and I’m happy I could be here and get as much as experience as I could," he said on the Bruins' final day of media availability at TD Garden in mid-April. "I really enjoyed every second here; just unfortunately, it’s finished pretty early."

Despite the disappointing ending, the young forward made an impact both on the ice and in the room.

"He's an extremely talented kid, I don't think anyone can't see that," Brad Marchand said at the end of the season. "But, one thing - I like his confidence, on and off the ice. He's comfortable with fitting in with the group, and that's one thing we were kind of lacking early on from the young guys."

"Pasta kind of [came] in, he's bonded with everyone. You know, everyone enjoys having him around. He's always laughing and smiling, and he's got great charisma, and he's great for the room. That's something we really needed, and obviously you can't speak highly enough about his talent on the ice."

"He's going to be a phenomenal player in this League for a long time."

David Krejci also got along well with Pastrnak from Day One, when he sent a text message showing his support after the fellow Czech was drafted. The two met in the summer and developed a friendship. Only Krejci's injuries kept them from being able to play consistently on the same line in-season.

"You know, I was really excited we got a Czech guy," Krejci reflected. "And was hoping to play with him. You know, when he got drafted, you don't really know if the guy's going to make the team or not, but he came a long way. He's a great player and we get along really well off the ice."

"It's not like he was thrown in the NHL right away. He had to learn it in Providence, and that's how it should be, to kind of know where you're coming from and earn your spot."

The transition wasn't necessarily easy for Pastrnak, with the schedule and the training, and the bigger, stronger, faster players he had to battle.

The 5-foot-10 forward was tabbed at 167 pounds at development camp last summer, and believed he was somewhere around 180 to end the season. He'll have to add more strength.

"I’m going to have all summer to get better, get stronger, and I will try to do my best and get ready for next season," said Pastrnak.

The strides he can make moving forward are even more exciting than the progress that he has already made in Black and Gold.

"From the first time I saw him at the draft, he was with his mother and his agent, and I got to meet him a little bit, and he just looked like a kid - really looked like a kid," Claude Julien told towards the end of the season. "I hadn't seen him play, so everybody told me about his skill level and that, but I think what's been probably the most surprising, is that I don't think anybody really expected him to make an immediate impact."

"But you know, the one thing I've noticed from him, from training camp to now, is how much he loves being at the rink," Julien later added, noting the permanent smile plastered on his face every day.

What Julien appreciated the most about Pastrnak during the season, though, was seeing a young player show his potential.

"To see what he's doing, with experience and time, he's going to figure out this game even more," he said. "He's going to be even more dangerous. As he gets stronger, his speed and all that stuff, his smarts, he'll obviously come up with the puck a lot more…he's going to become more and more dangerous."

"He's going to be a game-changer. In my mind, he's going to be a threat every time he's on the ice. So I really see a lot of potential in this guy."

Pastrnak doesn't think far into the future. He's focused on living his dream, every day.

"Obviously I have to still keep working hard and get better, so I want to make the team next year, too" he said. "Have to just keep working hard in the summer and get ready for next season."

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