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David Pastrnak feeling at home with Bruins

Forward settled in Boston, thriving on top line with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- When forward David Pastrnak, a big personality in the package of a slight 18-year-old, burst onto the scene after being selected by the Boston Bruins with the No. 25 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, there were jokes and giant smiles, there were flowing locks, there was confidence.

That all quieted over the next two seasons, even as Pastrnak got regular time in the NHL.

The jokes slowed. The smile was tempered. The hair got cut.

But things are coming together for Pastrnak, he has four goals and three assists in six games and a chance to add to that against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

He is, though no longer a rookie, yet another young player doing his best to light the League on fire.

He has come into this season seemingly more confident, more ready. He is set in Boston, not least because his living situation is -- finally -- squared away. After years of uncertainty, of bouncing between lines and hotels and leagues as he worked to find a place in the NHL, Pastrnak sees hope that will all fall away this season, that his place will be found.

"This summer after the season I kept my same apartment, so I knew I can come whenever I want back to Boston and have the place here," Pastrnak said. "When I was coming to camp, I knew I have that place already. It's home. The first two years I was hotel to hotel, so that felt really good.

"I finally feel settled. I was counting it and I think I was like five months or six months the first year in the hotel, so it's tough. But this is great. I feel home, you know, and that's really nice."

Video: BOS@WPG: Pastrnak banks it home from the left circle

Home. He was talking about a physical home, about an apartment of his own, about a place to -- as they say -- rest his head. But he could just as easily be talking about the city, about the team, about his new line, about his place in the game.

For the past five years, since the 2010-2011 season, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have played almost exclusively together, with a sometimes rotating cast on the right wing. That has been Mark Recchi's spot and Reilly Smith's spot and Loui Eriksson's spot and Lee Stempniak's spot. It was assumed, for a time, that David Backes would get some time there.

But for now, the slot has gone to Pastrnak, and he has both the results and the promise of more.

"Last two years, they try me a couple times in that line and it didn't work, so this year, I was going all for it," Pastrnak said. "I was like, 'Let's make this work, guys.' I asked them what they want me to do and I try to listen. I think we do a pretty good job so far. It's a lot of stuff to get better at, and I think we're going to get better as the games go on."

It didn't start out that way, as Marchand admitted. The line had a week in training camp between the return of Marchand and Bergeron from the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and a minor injury to Bergeron before the season started. As Marchand said, "We really didn't play that well together."

That has changed. Though Bergeron missed the first three games of the season, with Backes substituting for him on the line, the three have combined for eight goals and nine assists already this season.

But though Marchand and Bergeron are known quantities, it is Pastrnak, 20, who has been a bit of a revelation.

"It's not always easy to adapt to a combo that's been playing together for a long time, but he's been great so far," Marchand said. "He's got another step this year. He's playing phenomenal. It's part of maturity, the older you get, the longer you play in the League. He was a kid when he first started. He was 18 years old."

Pastrnak bounced around a bit in his two seasons in the NHL, with some injuries getting in the way. He had multiple afflictions last season, which caused him to play 51 games after getting into 46 the year before. In those half seasons, the right wing showed tantalizing glimpses of what he could be in the League once fully formed, the talent and the skill and the speed. He also made mistakes.

This year, the mistakes are fewer, the skills and talent more than just tantalizing.

"I can't say enough," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I feel like I'm repeating myself when I say he's a much more confident, stronger individual. And he's certainly understanding the game even more. The hope plays have diminished quite a bit. It's more about making strong plays and making the right plays. He's just a young player that's maturing into the player he was going to be."

Video: BOS@TOR: Pastrnak buries Liles' feed with one-timer

Part of that has been putting him with those linemates, with Bergeron and Marchand. Playing with them, and against other teams' top lines, has forced Pastrnak to become more responsible, more accountable, to match their two-way play with his own.

Still, the plays he makes aren't always going to be the right ones. He will lose some battles. He will give the puck away. He will pass when he should have shot, and will shoot when he should have passed.

There was a moment like that against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. He gave up the puck to Marchand. He shouldn't have. He knows that, and he knows that he still has a way to go.

"You're learning every game, no matter if you're 20 or you're 40, you're going to learn new stuff every game," Pastrnak said. "Sometimes I've got to be a little more selfish and shoot that puck. Sometimes I wish I have that Marshy mind. He's great in that, deciding if he's going to shoot or pass.

"Now I know I should have shot it. It was 3-2 and it could be 3-3 and the game will be totally different."

He will learn. He will move on. He will continue to get better. Or that's the hope, at least.

He will continue to get stronger, too.

"He needed time to build his strength and his speed and he's done that," Marchand said. "He's worked hard in the summers. He's come back bigger and stronger and able to fend guys off. He doesn't lose puck battles on the walls and in the corners.

"He's faster this year. He's always been fast, but he's able to use his speed the right way this year, and he's beating guys at the right time and chipping in at the right time, playing the way that Claude wants us to play. He's playing like a veteran and that's what we need out of him."

When Pastrnak entered the League, he was 6-feet and 167 pounds. He could get run over by opponents, could get lost in corners and decimated by veterans. He is no longer that kid. He spent the summer doing what Bruins management wanted him to do, increasing his size and his strength, getting himself to 190 pounds to start this season. That makes a difference.

"It might seem like a short time, two years, but it's a lot of work," Pastrnak said. "If I remember two years ago when I got to the development camp, I wasn't even close to being able to play in the NHL back then because I was really little."

Video: BOS@CBJ: Pastrnak scores Bruins' first goal of season

That has changed. He worked at it, as he worked at many parts of his game.

"I can feel it," Pastrnak said of the changes. "But it's not just strength, it also comes with your experience. I think I'm way smarter than I was my first year, and I know what to do and trying to do it right. So I definitely feel way stronger in the battles and stuff, but have to keep doing it."

Six games is not enough of a sample size. It's not enough to cement a budding career. But it is a start. It is something. It is the right direction for the right player for a team that needs youth and talent and skill to round out its offense.

"I feel like I'm a big part of the team," Pastrnak said. "I have to play like it's my third year. So I'm going to play smart and I can't do the mistakes I could do in my first year and I was doing [then]. I have to really focus on that and I have to play the right way and play for the team.

"For me right now, it's nothing else matters than stay healthy and get some wins for the team."

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