When the Boston Bruins selected David Pastrnak with the 25th overall pick in the 2014 draft, fans didn’t know what to expect. Previous fails, like Zach Hamill, Joe Colborne and of course the beloved Jordan Caron, virtually killed any trust they had in the Peter Chiarelli drafting regiment.
But the “Pasta” buzz started right at the draft. When scouting reports raved of his playmaking and scoring abilities, the thought of having a new young offensive superstar to obsess over surfaced in the streets.
With Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khokhlachev not yet making a major impact at the NHL level, Bruins fans had lost their patience, in dying needed of a prospect to drool over. Many believed Spooner was the guy; and were unsure whether the Bruins unwillingness to play him was truly warranted, or an overreaction to defensive deficiencies-something quite common amongst young players.
But here we are. With less than two months to go in the regular season, battling for a playoff spot, Spooner is center a Milan Lucic, Pastrnak trio.
Pastrnak tore up the American Hockey League as soon as he laced them up. The youngest player in all of professional hockey, he’s earned his spot as a needed right-winger after multiple call-ups, and drastic improvements in different areas of his game. Originally slated to skate with David Krejci, things changed when the top line center went down with an MCL injury, forcing him to miss four to six weeks of action.
Though, in an unexpected turn, the injury couldn’t have come at a better time. Spooner was playing the best hockey of his career down in Providence, and just like his buddy Pastrnak, made the most of his recent call-up. It really sparked his development as a player.
Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Tampa Bay lightning, the Bruins were riding a hot streak with both rookies contributing in a big way. Their speed, offensive creativity and overall energy added elements the Bruins were sorely lacking, just in time for the playoff push.
Coach Claude Julien credited Spooner for the strides he’s made in his pregame meeting with the media. “I think he’s brought that element of speed that we always saw in Ryan [Spooner],” Julien said. “His playmaking ability seems to be even better. He seems to be gaining confidence all the time but I think the biggest thing with Ryan is his play at this level, he seems to have a lot more confidence where he was hesitant at times in certain areas.” Julien noted that Spooner’s willingness to battle in the corners has done wonders for his game.
On cue, just eight minutes into Thursday night’s action, Spooner and Pastrnak hooked up for the game’s first tally. Spooner made himself available in the neutral zone for Lucic, who dished him the puck, propelling the center on a two-on-one with his fellow rookie. Spooner exhibited excellent patience, waiting for the opening and then sliding the puck over to Pastrnak, who guided it in with his foot. It was Pastrnak’s ninth goal of the season, as he continues to impress.
Although the line still got hemmed in their own zone at times, they created chances on the other end. Extended time in the offensive zone, Coach Claude Julien even rewarded them with a last minute shift in a 2-2 game.
“It was [Valtterri] Filppula’s line and I thought they played well against that line and they had some opportunities to score, and I said we’re playing here to win,” Julien said after the game when asked about that decision. “So, it was important for me to put them out there and show that confidence in that group.”
Even in the overtime, when skating three-on-three, Julien threw Spooner and Pastrnak out there with Matt Bartkowski as the lone defenseman. The coach is clearly showing more confidence in his young players, something that should bode well for the Bruins not just this year, but beyond.
The one thing concerning about the Spooner line is their defensive inabilities. Getting hemmed in their own zone shift after shift will only lead to more goals against, and less ice time from their coach. Julien has been doing a great job with matchups, but that wont be nearly as easy come playoff time (if they make it).
When Krejci comes back, it seems likely he’d center Lucic and Pastrnak. Krejci and Lucic would make for a better pairing, as zone time and possession are essential to playoff success; ultimately leaving a Spooner decision up in the air. Right now, the Bruins made out good. With Krejci down, Spooner is doing a masterful job filling in and more than likely helping lock down a playoff spot. When Krejci comes back though, it’ll be tough sledding for Chiarelli, Julien once again. Decisions, decisions.