Jarome Iginla’s offseason departure means the Boston Bruins need a winger with goal-scoring ability and a right-handed shot.
Given the B’s lack of salary cap space — about $4.4 million when Marc Savard’s contract goes on LTIR — filling this void through the NHL’s free agent market isn’t likely.
The best option is to find a solution from within the organization, and one player whose stock rose at last week’s development camp was 2014 first-round draft pick David Pastrnak.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Sunday that Pastrnak “probably stood out the most for me.” Chiarelli also didn’t rule out the possibility that the 18-year-old winger will be among the forwards competing for three open roster spots during training camp.
“You never know,” Chiarelli said. “… You don?t want to place too much of a burden on this kid?s shoulders, but he was good (at development camp).
“You know like the hesitation you have is he?s 170 to 173 pounds, but he?s wiry strong, so you never know. Speed, skill, sense is all there, so it would be nice, but we?ll see. But you know, he?s young, and to throw someone like that at that age, at that weight — but there have been guys who have done it.”
The first step is to find a way for Pastrnak to rejoin the team in September, which Chiarelli is confident can be worked out.
“I?m working on it. So we?ve got — there?s a couple of signing milestones, deadlines,” Chiarelli said. “One is the 15th for players over the Swedish transfer agreement and then there?s another one, it might be a month later, you have to pay a little extra money to the Federation. So if we can get him signed, which I anticipate we will be able to, you?ll see him in camp.”
The Bruins need a right-handed shot to play the half-wall, fire one-timers on the power play and give head coach Claude Julien a little more flexibility when mixing lines and special teams units.
Even though the Bruins usually take their time with prospects and let them fully develop in the AHL or Canadian juniors, it wouldn’t be unprecedented if Pastrnak made the NHL roster. Since the 2005-06 lockout, first-round picks Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin both played for the Bruins in the same year that they were drafted.
Much like Kessel and Seguin, Pastrnak has all the tools needed to create scoring chances as a rookie. He showed in Sweden last season and during development camp that he possesses an accurate and powerful shot. His skating ability and speed also are excellent, and the Czech forward has a high hockey IQ — one that stands out when he enters the attacking zone and patiently waits for the play to develop before making a pass.
One of the few things working against Pastrnak is his size. With that said, he’s about the same weight (give or take a pound or two) as Seguin when the former No. 2 overall pick was drafted in 2010. Pastrnak does a good job making up for his lack of elite strength by using his quickness and offensive instincts to elude defenders in all three zones.
In the likely event that Loui Eriksson moves up to the first line and slots into Iginla’s role at right wing, there will be a spot open on the B’s third line. As a natural right winger, Pastrnak would be a good fit alongside Carl Soderberg and possibly Chris Kelly. Iginla’s 30 goals from 2013-14 won’t be replaced by one player. It will need to be a collective effort.
As the Bruins move toward a more skill- and speed-based game, it wouldn’t hurt to give Pastrnak a chance to prove himself at the NHL level. The B’s would have nine regular-season games to determine if he’s ready before having to decide if he stays the entire season.
Chiarelli always could sign a veteran free agent or trade for a top-six forward, but the cost-effective method is to fill the roster holes from within. Luckily for Pastrnak, the Bruins are a veteran team with impressive depth, and unlike most first-round picks, he wouldn’t be under immense pressure to consistently perform at a high level as a rookie.
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