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Pastrnak could push to make Bruins as 18-year-old

by Matt Kalman

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The majority of David Pastrnak's teammates at the Boston Bruins rookie camp were exposed to him for the first time Thursday during off-ice testing and the first official practice at Ristuccia Arena.

Pastrnak made quite an impression.

"He's just a big goofball," fellow forward Matthew Lindblad said after practice. "And we're going to have a lot of fun over the next week."

The Bruins' rookies left after practice for Antioch, Tenn., where they will compete in a rookie tournament against similarly experienced squads representing the host Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Pastrnak, the Bruins' first-round pick (No. 25) in the 2014 NHL Draft, will bring the most notoriety among Boston’s players, not because of his comedic approach to life but because there's been little done by the organization to tamp down the hype that he could make the NHL as an 18-year-old, without further seasoning.

Pastrnak, a Czech Republic native who has to return to the Swedish Elite League if he doesn't make Boston's roster, has been lauded from the time he was drafted for his speed and skill. He flaunted those tools during the Bruins development camp in July and again showed off what he can do during the first practice of rookie camp.

But his playful side, which might help Pastrnak handle the pressure of training camp position battles and other on-ice problems, is also a plus to the Bruins.

"I love his infectious personality," assistant general manager Don Sweeney said. "And really, he just shows up wanting to play hockey and get better. He came over early on his own right to sort of get acclimated. He's made a few trips back and forth [to the Czech Republic], which I asked him if he's tired all, and he just smiles, 'No way.' This is about wanting to play hockey. His skill set separates him at times because it's awfully good. Now we've got him playing some center and some wing just to get him comfortable. But he's excited, and I think we are as an organization to have him as part of our group."

Standing in front of his locker and sporting his seemingly permanent smile, Pastrnak said he was getting along great with the rest of the rookies, who had been up since 5 a.m. because of testing. When it was suggested that rookie camp could be his first step toward reaching the NHL this season, he shot back, "The first of many steps."

Pastrnak is not getting ahead of himself in terms of his personal goals, but he's definitely put himself in the best position possible to be at his best this fall. After development camp, Pastrnak impressed scouts who watched the Czech Republic compete at a Hockey Canada summer development camp. Pastrnak had three goals and one assist in three games.

He arrived in the Boston area two weeks ago and immediately skated with a large group of NHL veterans and prospects.

"It was great, learning a little bit of experience not just on the ice but off the ice too," Pastrnak said. "Seeing how they are out on the ice, and that's going to give me a lot. So I'm happy that I could practice with them, and also I was trying to take as much of the experience as I could."

Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who more than a decade ago made the NHL roster as an 18-year-old, sees potential in Pastrnak.

"He's very fast, you know, skilled," Bergeron said. "I think he battles hard. I know it's early, but he seems to be really hard on the puck and wants it. So it’s great to have. He seems to be a great player."

For the first time in several seasons the Bruins will have open jobs when their main training camp opens next week. The departures of forwards Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton via unrestricted free agency left holes on the first and fourth lines, respectively. Although the Bruins might go with a returning veteran in Iginla's old spot next to center David Krejci and left wing Milan Lucic, there could be an opportunity for a skilled young player to get a shot.

General manager Peter Chiarelli hasn't ruled out Pastrnak as a fit on that line.

"Take it slowly. You don't really want to put him in a high-level spot quite yet," he said last week. "Let's see how he does in rookie camp and at the Nashville rookie camp. And if he lights it up, maybe he gets into the upper lines to start. So we'll see."

Krejci might wind up becoming a mentor to his young countryman.

"I think he's going to ask me more questions than other guys," Krejci said. "It's going to be a little bit easier with the Czech language. So I'm ready, I'm excited to help him, and hopefully he’s going to have a good camp and a good chance to make the team."

Pastrnak had eight goals and 24 points in 36 games for Sodertalje SK in the Sweden First Division. He'll have to pick up his scoring pace and also improve his defensive game to crack Boston’s lineup. With three games in a tournament over the weekend, Pastrnak said he isn’t thinking about the big picture of main camp or how he’s going to fare individually.

"I just want to do well for the team and make the best play we can make. And just win the games," he said.

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