BOSTON (CBS) — Development camp is a great way for an NHL team to garner some headlines during the summer and for a team’s front office (and sometimes fans) to see all of its prospects under one roof and assess the players’ improvements and necessary future improvements.
However, one thing development camp can’t be is a 100-percent predictor of future success.
For every Tyler Seguin or Milan Lucic who stood out at development camp and went on to greatness, there was a Jason Lawrence or an Alain Goulet who turned out to not fare so well when there were actual hockey games against the best players in the world on the schedule. Even Jordan Caron, who at 23 years old might still have a future in the NHL somewhere, shined at his development camps and looked like the type of player that wouldn’t take this long to blossom.
So it’s with those success stories and busts in mind that we reflect on the Bruins’ signing Tuesday of 2014 first-round pick (25th overall) David Pastrnak to a traditional entry-level contract. The deal allowed the Bruins to beat the deadline to sign the Czech-born, Swedish League-playing forward without paying a premium to get him into training camp this fall.
Just two days ago, Pastrnak completed five days of development camp, during which he was clearly the best performer among Boston’s non-pros. The brass that spoke to the media, including general manager Peter Chiarelli, didn’t completely rule out the possibility that Pastrnak, a right-shot with speed and an impressive release on his shot, could be in the mix for a NHL roster spot. After all, the Bruins’ depth chart is currently missing three names on its one-to-13 forward list.
In speaking with a team pool reporter Tuesday, Chiarelli again acknowledged Pastrnak’s speed and skill and how it could fit the bill in Boston. But he also said:
“Let’s not put the cart before the horse with David. 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.”
Regardless of where you want to put the cart or the horse, it’s obvious that they would take either one if it would help make up for the loss of Jarome Iginla. If you project Loui Eriksson moving up to play with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, then the Bruins still need to add a player to the bottom six that’s more than just a placeholder. They need someone who can contribute and maybe add a different dynamic than even their best players. One less grinder in the lineup would be nice, and for various reasons (low draft positions because of success, traded draft picks, poorly executed draft picks) skill is in short supply among Boston’s homegrown forwards. After centers Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev, there’s not much to keep Pastrnak down the depth chart in terms of skill.
Now the 18-year-old Pastrnak might get knocked down a few rungs when he gets to training camp and has to battle with stronger, experienced men. Pastrnak is listed at 6-feet tall and he’s been described as weighing anywhere from 167 pounds to somewhere in the mid-170s. One corner battle with Dennis Seidenberg or Adam McQuaid might reduce the rookie to a kitten.
Nonetheless, if he’s a quick learner, he’ll be able to find ways to work around his size disadvantage. And his contributions might bring more positives for the Bruins than his liabilities cause problems.
Working in Pastrnak’s favor is also the Bruins’ track record with integrating teenagers into the lineup. Lucic, Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton were all cast in lesser roles, and were even left on the sidelines at times, until they were ready for more responsibilities. It’s situations like this that show why the Bruins not only accumulated depth but also veteran leaders. Krejci wore an ‘A’ last season and there’s no doubt he will be able to take Pastrnak, his countryman, under his wing and show him the ropes on and off the ice. Beyond the stars, players like Chris Kelly and Johnny Boychuk are foundation-type players that make sure everyone, regardless of age, focuses on the big picture. For all the criticism of the Bruins when Seguin played on a line with Kelly, there’s no doubt it made Seguin a well-rounded player. Marc Savard and Marco Sturm made sure Kessel didn’t sink during his first year’s living on his own and McQuaid has been a perfect off-ice mentor (and roommate) for Hamilton.
Although the Bruins would probably rather be in the position of not having an opening for a kid they just drafted late in the first round, they at least have the type of program that makes it possible to nurture a kid’s development at the NHL level if the player warrants the opportunity and that player’s abilities are needed.
There might be some PR aspects to the hyping of Pastrnak. When a team loses its leading goal scorer and doesn’t have an apparent replacement in the fold, it can’t hurt to paint a prettier picture of the future. Considering their poor drafting track record of the past several seasons, the Bruins might also be trying to give a public pat on the back to Keith Gretzky, who just completed his first draft as Boston’s director of amateur scouting.
Regardless of any ulterior motives, Pastrnak just might be able to inject some of the things the Bruins lack into their lineup. And just the fact that they seem open to that, rather than handing off the job to someone because of more experience or the amount of money they make, is a great sign.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
CSNNE Bruins insider Joe Haggerty appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show recently to discuss Pastrnak, the best player he’s seen in development camp since Tyler Seguin and someone who has “the total package.”