If you thought David Pastrnak was going to ease his way back into the hockey season, think again.
The Boston Bruins right winger notched a hat trick and four points in a 4-3 OT win over Philadelphia on Wednesday, bringing his early totals to five goals and seven points in just three games. Pastrnak missed all of training camp and Boston's first seven games as he recovered from off-season hip and labral surgery, but you wouldn't know it based on how he has hit the ground running in 2020-21.
"It's funny," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "I told him that my experience is that sometimes when guys miss that much time, your hands and your timing are a little out of sync. He showed me!"
At this point last February, Pastrnak was on top of the hockey world, well on his way to a 95-point season in just 70 games. But the pandemic break threw a wrench in his rise and Pastrnak had to quarantine after running afoul of NHL Covid protocols. He still tallied 10 points in 10 post-season games for the Bruins, but Boston fell easily to the eventual champs from Tampa Bay in the second round.
Despite that hiccup, Pastrnak has been one of the best players in the league recently, teaming up with fellow elite forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to form one of the most formidable trios in hockey. Having familiar linemates when he returned to the ice recently made the transition a lot easier for Pastrnak, as did his hunger to get on the ice and contribute again.
"The recovery was really long - something I hadn't had in my career," Pastrnak said. "I had been itching to get back."
At 24 years old, Pastrnak has entered his peak years as an NHLer and if the past is any indication - three straight years of at least 80 points - the ceiling is sky-high for him. His game is rounded enough to hang with his amazing two-way teammates, while his shot has officially become a lethal weapon. Perhaps most importantly, he understands what makes his game tick right now.
"With years of experience, I figured out that for the best hockey I play, I have to be confident on the ice," he said. "No matter if it's a bad night or a good night, try being confident because that's how I can help the team; with my offensive play. And that's when I'm at my best. I try to be confident no matter how the game is going."
Against Philly, his team was down a goal with 15 seconds left before Pastrnak swatted in a loose puck at the side of the Flyers net. Knowing what his team can accomplish if they play the full 60 minutes is another revelation that the sizzling Czech has honed in on recently.
While the Bruins defense corps got nicked pretty bad in the off-season with the departures of Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, the team still has two excellent goaltenders (Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak) and a cadre of forwards who are either talented, hard to play against or both.
Under the new divisional alignment, Boston finds itself with some new rivals - though really only Washington and Philadelphia look like threats for the East crown. The Bruins came close to a Stanley Cup victory two years ago and there are still a couple links to the 2011 championship team. Pastrnak was too young for that run by the B's, but it goes without saying that another Boston effort won't be possible without him as one of the spearheads.
Lucky for the Bruins, Pastrnak is already in mid-season form.
"Obviously he's on a mission," Cassidy said. "Good for him; we need it."