There’s been no shortage of talk about Boston’s inability to score this season. Through 51 games, the Bruins have 125 goals, a rate of 2.45 per game, which ranks 23rd in the league and the lowest among any team currently holding down a post-season position. Boston’s scoring troubles have shone a spotlight on their sometimes shaky goaltending, led to worry about the team’s ability to battle its way into the post-season and reignited talk about coach Claude Julien’s safety behind the bench.
But while all of this has been clouding the Bruins’ season, David Pastrnak has been chipping away. Shot by shot, goal by goal, the 20-year-old winger has shown that his sometimes difficult sophomore year was in no way indicative of what the future would hold. Instead, he’s sniped, blasted and buried his way to a 20-goal campaign in just 44 games. He’s on pace for a 30-plus goal season and more than 60 points, has been among the best 5-on-5 scorers in the league and he’s giving the Bruins that additional offensive threat that can put them over the top.
Given what we’re seeing out of Pastrnak, it’s a wonder the Bruins landed him with the 25th pick in the 2014 draft. Recent drafts haven’t been kind to Boston and the Bruins were a middling team in THN’s Future Watch 2016, but Pastrnak has proven to be the potential steal of 2014.
Two and a half seasons on, all but seven of the 2014 first-round draft picks have found their way into at least one big league contest, and the group is highlighted by youngsters such as Aaron Ekblad, Leon Draisaitl, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dylan Larkin and Pastrnak. The three leading scorers of the group, though, are Draisaitl, Ekblad and Pastrnak, and it’s the Bruins winger who leads the entire draft class with 45 goals in the first 141 games of his career.
Realistically, if one were to go back and re-draft in 2014, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the top-five consisted of Ekblad, Ehlers, Draisaitl, William Nylander and Pastrnak. There’s even an argument to be made that the goal scoring Pastrnak provides could put him into the top three, because his pace is as impressive as his actual totals. On a points per game basis, Pastrnak ranks fourth among players from the 2014 draft class who have seen at least 10 games. Goals per game, he’s first. The only other player to rank as high in both categories is Ehlers, and he was selected 16 spots before Pastrnak.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising, though, because Pastrnak’s rise to a 30-goal player could have been seen coming, even as he navigated the first two seasons of his career as a third-line winger. Debuting as an 18-year-old, Pastrnak played bottom-six minutes and he continued to suit up in the back half of the lineup into his sophomore year. The points don’t come easily when you’re averaging less than 14 minutes of ice time per game, but over those first two seasons Pastrnak was more than a half-point per game player, netting 25 goals in 97 games along the way. How has the increase in ice time seen him nearly match his career goal total in 44 games, though?
During his first two seasons, Pastrnak averaged 8.76 shots per 60 minutes and he found the back of the net on 12.1 percent of his shots on goal. Those were some of the best totals among all Bruins during the past two seasons. Pastrnak’s ability was paying off, too, even if it was in limited minutes. His 2.28 points per 60 minutes was the best mark of any Bruin over the past two seasons. These are important numbers to note because Pastrnak is showing this season that handing him an increased role and more ice time hasn’t slowed his production down one bit.
This season, Pastrnak’s averaging nearly four additional minutes of ice time per game compared to his previous two campaigns, and that has resulted in a significant uptick in shots on goal. In the first 97 games of his career, he registered 201 shots. This season alone, he’s on pace for more than 250. His shot rate has increased to 10.2 per 60 minutes and that has paid off in a big way when paired with a shooting percentage that has barely budged.
The kicker for Pastrnak, and the exciting thing for the Bruins, is that he has increased his ability to generate scoring chances with his speed and ability to find space. He’s seen an increase in individual scoring chances per 60 minutes from 2.28 over the past two seasons to 2.48 in 2016-17 and his expected goal total has risen, as well.
Pastrnak has proven to be better than advertised and he’s already leading Boston’s attack. It may be a down year for the rest of the offense, but Pastrnak is demonstrating that the Bruins aren’t about to go away quietly when he’s in the lineup.
(Advanced stats via Corsica. All stats per 60 minutes based on 5-on-5 play.)