Anyone who has seen him play has always known that Boston Bruins phenom right wing David Pastrnak possesses an elite, special talent. This year, fans were being treated to what felt like his true coming-of-age season. In fact, “Pasta” is just two shy of the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career.
This milestone was so close he could taste it. And, barring injury, it seemed like there was no way he would not get there and beyond. And then everything came to a screeching halt when the National Hockey League suspended its season to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
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Of course, the 23-year-old Pastrnak will likely have many stellar seasons and countless cracks at 50-goal seasons. But in sports, like in many aspects of life, nothing is certain. That’s why it is such a shame that his first real chance to do it was cut short when he was oh-so-close.
If the 2019-20 season does continue, it is impossible to know at this time whether regular-season games will resume. It is possible that the players will be given a chance to get back up to speed with some sort of quick training camp scenario and then the league will begin a modified playoff schedule. If that happens, the regular season will have ended with Pastrnak scoring 48 goals.
For teams on the bubble or just a few points away from a playoff spot, it is impossible to tell how a truncated season and revamped playoff structure would affect their postseason chances. However, fortunately for the Bruins, they had the NHL’s best record when the season was suspended, so they would make the postseason under every possible scenario. And Pastrnak was a huge factor in putting them in that position.
In fact, the young Czech played so well in the first month of the season that his scoring success almost single-handedly kept the team high in the standings when wins were suddenly hard to come by in December and January. His early-season goal-scoring clinic was not only amazing to watch as a spectator, but definitely lifted a team that was struggling to find line chemistry and secondary scoring.
Right Before Our Eyes
Pastrnak is a team-first guy. His teammates love him. The fans love him. And he would probably be the first to say that he doesn’t care if he scored one goal or 100 goals, as long as he was able to help the team win. Especially in the playoffs when it matters most.
But all the humility in the world cannot erase the fact that an unexpectedly shortened season would rob hockey fans from the chance to watch one of the most talented young stars in the world shoot for the record books. When Pastrnak is on his game, the best goalies in the league are powerless to keep him off the scoresheet.
Even if no more regular-season games are played, Pastrnak is still a favorite to win the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s most valuable player. And, if the individual-player standings have already been set, he will share the most-goals-scored title with a bona fide legend in the Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin.
Pastrnak’s season will absolutely be viewed as a great one someday when hockey historians look back on the campaign affected by an unprecedented global crisis. But there will also always be a question of what could have been.
Hat tricks are commonplace for Pastrnak. In fact, he even threw in a four-goal performance this season. It would have been interesting to see how many goals he could have scored in an uninterrupted, 82-game season.
This may not be as important to the man himself as it is to fans of an Original Six franchise that has produced more than its fair share of great goalscorers in its 96-year history. For example, as the season progressed, Boston fans were frequently reminded of an unbelievable season in which the Bruins’ Cam Neely put up 50 goals in an injury-shortened 49-game season. Hockey historians will agree, if you are being compared to the incredible accomplishments of current Bruins president Neely’s 1993-94 season, you are doing something right.
Neely hit the 50-goal mark three times in his career. The last time he did it, in that 1993-94 season, was the last time any Bruin did so. So, Pastrnak sure looked like he was on his way to doing something no one else had done for the storied franchise in 26 years – two years longer than he’s been alive.
When he does achieve that milestone in future seasons, or possibly if or when the current one resumes, Pastrnak will be joining quite a host of Boston hockey greats. In addition to Neely, Bruins who have had 50-goal seasons include Phil Esposito, a five-time 50-goal scorer; Johnny Bucyk; Ken Hodge; and Rick Middleton.
All of those former stars’ jerseys hang from the rafters at TD Garden, with the exception of Hodge’s. Even if his number was never retired by the organization, it is one that probably still means a lot to Pastrnak. Hodge wore number 88 for the Bruins, the same number Pasta wears today.
Pastrnak will accomplish so many milestones and probably break more than a few records along the way in his NHL career. Even if he does not get the chance to score 50 goals in the 2019-20 season, anyone who watched him amass the 48 he does have knows they were seeing something special.