David Pastrnak Gets One Step Closer to Boston
BostonBruins.com - David Pastrnak made his way towards the bow of the boat, as it eased through the Boston Harbor.
He was on his way back from Thompson Island following a day of team-building activities with 22 other prospects he had befriended during the past week at Bruins Development Camp.
As he stared off into the distance, with his Bruins' draft hat backwards on his head, the skyline of downtown Boston stretched out before him. There had just been a downpour and the clouds were beginning to open right over the city.
Two weeks ago, the 2014 first-round draft pick was in Philadelphia, hearing his name announced as the Bruins selected him 25th overall.
Just a week after that, the 18-year-old Czech was arriving to Boston for the first time in his life to attend the club's development camp.
Much can happen in a two-week span.
On Tuesday, the right winger was headed back to the Czech Republic, having signed an entry-level deal with the Bruins. It would be his first time returning to his hometown of Havirov since he was drafted. He had made it back to Prague after the draft, but not all the way home.
He was returning with just his skates for equipment, his Bruins' bag and a duffel bag he had flown with to the draft. In the post-draft whirlwind, he never had a chance to get his gear from his Swedish team.
The Bruins announced Pastrnak's signing on Tuesday morning. He'll be back in Boston in two months for training camp, where he has an opportunity - however narrow - of pushing to stay.
Could he ever have imagined all of this?
"Oh, until now, until this moment happened now, I’ve been always just dreaming about it," Pastrnak said, after letting out a deep breath. He was still trying to process it all. It hadn't been too long after he had put the pen to paper on his first NHL contract on the final day of development camp.
"Now it's come true, but my dreaming isn’t done. I have to still do more things for my dad, and for my family."
When Pastrnak mentioned his dad, he looked up towards the sky, just as he did when he was drafted.
It's a sense of comfort for him. Every day, he hopes he's making his father proud. Milan Pastrnak, a former player, always told David that he must practice, and he must work hard. When Milan lost his battle with cancer in May of 2013, David continued dedicating his hockey career to his father and his family.
"I still have more that I have to do, and I just have to keep working, and that can be a good beginning," said Pastrnak.
That's what signing the contract is for the forward: a beginning. Training camp in September will be the next part of his progression with the Black and Gold.
"It’s another step along the way, and it’s important that we don’t skip those steps," said Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli, who hasn't ruled out the right-shot right winger putting himself into contention for a role in Boston this season, with three rosters spots up for grabs.
After camp, preseason games will be another indication, followed by the window of nine regular season games, if Pastrnak proves himself ready.
"And at each step, the level of play, the tempo of play, the strength of the player, all increases, so with a young 18-year-old who’s 171 pounds, you have to be careful," said Chiarelli. "Now, he’s strong, he’s naturally strong, so he’s got that going for him, but we’ll have to see."
The 'bigger, stronger, faster' trajectory takes years for most draft picks to adjust to, spending time in juniors, college or overseas, before being able to hold their own against men.
Pastrnak spent the past two seasons with Södertälje in the Allsvenskan Leage in Sweden. He had to move away from his hometown and his family not long after he turned 16, and lived on his own. He went to school to learn English and Swedish in between practices.
On the ice, he's developed into a highly skilled winger with fast feet and a quick release, making plays in tight and protecting the puck well. He's a passer, and a shooter. He can cut to the middle of the ice, doesn't shy away from traffic, and can easily school a defender in one-on-one situations.
Even development camp showed glimpses of the above traits, though going up against Zdeno Chara will be an entirely new level of competition for Pastrnak (he could take a cue from Reilly Smith and have Big Zee battle with him in the corners after skates wrap up).
Pastrnak has also been known to be an amazing teammate. Fellow 2014 first-round pick William Nylander (chosen by Toronto), his linemate in Sweden, has spoken highly of the forward as a player and as a person. Pastrnak's quick feet and puck protection aren't unlike William's father, the former NHL player Michael Nylander.
While Pastrnak has been impressive, Chiarelli has been cautious when speaking about his chances of making the club in Boston.
"It’s well-documented that we’re looking for skill and speed and he fits that bill, but let’s not put the cart before the horse with David," said the GM. "I think we’re fortunate to get him where we got him and he had a terrific camp, and we’ll see where it goes from there."
"It’s a great feeling and that’s why I’ve been practicing, that’s why I’m going for it," said Pastrnak. "And I just have to keep practicing and get better before I make the team and before the contract means something."
On the ice, the forward will ultimately determine his future. That will play out in the coming months and years, as Bruins' fans keep a close watch.
What is known right now, though, is what has been witnessed in the past two weeks: a charismatic teen, full of energy and grateful for everything and everyone around him, who has captivated the Bruins' brass, fans, media and teammates.
Oh, and he absolutely loves the game.
"I think the kid loves to play hockey, he loves to be around hockey and he’s smiling all the time - he really enjoys it," said Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney. "I think he has a bit of a flair on and off the ice and I like the excitement. I think it’s infectious for everybody."
From the draft, to development camp, to signing his first NHL contract, Pastrnak has embraced it all.
On the first on-ice day of camp, he couldn't stop smiling in the Spoked-B.
"It's a big moment for me, I didn't want it to get sweaty," Pastrnak joked. "Of course, it's an unreal moment and I'm really proud and happy that I can have this jersey on myself and I'm just going to try to give my best."
In Philadelphia at the draft, we quickly found out his idol was David Krejci, and the admiration he showed for his fellow Czech came to an all-time high when he received a congratulatory message from him.
"It was unreal, you know. [As] a kid, you have an idol who you're looking for, and then one day he just writes a message, so I felt really good," Pastrnak shared at development camp. "Crazy."
"He just wrote me congrats, buddy, I hope we're going to see you at the camp, we're gonna have fun. I just said - I didn't know what you have to say, you know - I just said thank you and it's gonna be great to meet you."
Meeting Krejci is one thing, but skating on the ice with him at training camp would be a dream for Pastrnak.
"Oh, I just hope I get to stay alive," he laughed.
"I always said if I get this chance, I would do my best and show the Bruins that they made the right decision, and I would really enjoy it."
He's enjoyed it, alright.
During moments when Pastrnak is speaking about his dreams and his future in the Spoked-B (or when he's alone at the bow of a boat in the Boston Harbor), he is more serious, and reflective.
But seeing him around players his own age at development camp, all between the ages of 18 and 23, you realize that he is just a kid.
Whether he's joking back and forth with goalie Malcolm Subban about scoring on him, cracking jokes during team-building day on Thompson Island, or flashing a smile during the prospects' batting practice at Fenway Park, he's always right in the action.
He may still be a kid, but he's a kid who seems to get it.
That showed all week, whether he was paddle-boarding in the Charlestown Navy Yard with children for community day at development camp, to "do something for the kids and make them happy, you know?" or working his tail off on the ice.
"Just great things I remember, just good memories," Pastrnak said of his week in Boston.
"Being around these guys, it was unreal. I mean, you have to have fun on the ice, but if you want to play at this kind of level, you can't do whatever you want, you know? And that's something I'm trying to learn."
"I know I enjoy it, and I'm learning how to behave off the ice, and not just on the ice. NHL's not just on the ice, you know, so [Boston's] a great place to live and I hope I will make it once, and I can be part of this."
That learning, he hopes, will lead to him being a Bruin longer than just one week.
"Now I just go back to Europe and practice hard, and show Boston that they want me to come back," said Pastrnak. "I will be happy that I can come back and do my best here."