The following feature is running as part of BostonBruins.com’s #ProspectTBT series, highlighting current Bruins and their paths to the NHL, including key markers like the NHL Entry Draft and the Boston Bruins Development Camp.
BostonBruins.com – David Pastrnak has always had a special fondness for a particular member of the National Hockey League. Growing up in the Czech Republic, he had plenty of idols to choose from.
Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Elias, and Tomas Plekanec all have had successful National Hockey League careers – and in Jagr’s case, one worthy of a slam-dunk spot in the Hall of Fame.
But Pastrnak always had his eyes on Boston – and David Krejci, the Bruins’ talented center, who helped lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and was essential in helping them reach another Cup Final in 2013.
"I’m trying to play like Krejci from when I was born," Pastrnak said at the 2014 NHL Draft, after being drafted by Boston with the 25th overall pick.
"He was my idol from when I was small and he still is my idol."
So when the Bruins picked Pastrnak, it was a dream come true. There was an added level of excitement for Pastrnak, knowing that soon he would get the chance to suit up alongside the player he grew up admiring.
And it wasn’t just Krejci’s offensive flare that stood out to Pastrnak. It was Krejci’s ability to be a balanced, three-zone player.
“[Krejci's] two-way game – he's a great offensive guy but if he isn't scoring goals in the game, he's still helping the team defensively," said Pastrnak. "And I think that's the right guy for me to look up for because his kind of hockey is not just about offensively, because you have to play for the team and be a team player, and he is.
"And that's what I like about him and he's a great hockey player and I think he's a great person, too."
Some two years later, Pastrnak has begun to solidify his role as a stalwart in the Bruins lineup alongside his mentor. The 20-year-old has played parts of two seasons with Boston and is continuing to gain the experience and strength needed to compete in the league on a nightly basis.
He has also had the opportunity to learn firsthand from Krejci while playing alongside him as his right wing for a large chunk of his 97 NHL games. Fifty-one of those games came this past season, when Pastrnak tallied 15 goals and 11 assists.
Pastrnak missed over two months early in the season with a foot injury, but returned in early January and scored 13 of his goals over the final 41 games. It was over the last few weeks of the year that he began to really settle in.
“The first [year] you come here and all you can do is surprise,” Pastrnak said earlier this offseason.
“Second year, there’s higher expectations for you. Definitely different. You will face some more pressure than you do for the first year. That was kind of new for me, but as the season went on I was feeling better every game. I got more experience every game.
“Every game you have to compete hard, be really smart and just hard on the puck. You don’t get the puck much in the NHL and when you do you have to hang on and make some plays.”
Hanging on to the puck is Pastrnak’s main focus. He is still just 180 pounds and getting used to battling with men that are sometimes 40 or 50 pounds heavier. But his speed and skill are still apparent, as they were in 2014 when the Bruins brass made Pastrnak their first-round pick.
"I think the kid loves to play hockey, he loves to be around hockey, and he’s smiling all the time," said Don Sweeney, then the Bruins assistant general manager, at the 2014 Draft.
"He really enjoys it - he cuts across the middle of the ice on a two-on-two, some defenseman are going to lick their chops and he’s going to pick up his helmet sideways probably at some point in time - but that doesn’t mean that he’s not going to try it again and I like that about him."
Bruins Director of Amateur Scouting Keith Gretzky was impressed by the blend of skill and grittiness that Pastrnak embodied coming out of Sodertalje in the Swedish B League.
"It’s just, he competes and he’s got skill and we thought we needed some more skill," Gretzky said at the 2014 Draft. "He handles the puck real well, he protects the puck real well and he’s full of energy. You gravitate to him."
That has not changed. Pastrnak’s trademark smile is on display on a daily basis – as is his drive to be better.
“To get better at hockey,” Pastrnak said last month of his goals for this offseason. “Everywhere. Every player can work on everything. That’s what I’m going to try to do, get stronger, get faster. Pretty much everything.”
The 2016 Boston Bruins Development Camp, presented by AT&T, will take place from July 12-15, at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass. All on-ice sessions are open to the public, with the camp’s roster to be announced at a later date. For the latest information on current Bruins prospects, bookmark BostonBruins.com/prospects.