David Pastrnak scored 38 goals in just 66 games in 2018-19. His production in recent seasons begs the question: Will he be the first since Cam Neely in 1993-94 to score 50 goals (in a memorable just 44 games played) with a spoked-B on his sweater?
It might seem a tad silly to talk about the Bruins first 50-goal scorer in 25 years when America’s oldest active franchise hasn’t seen a 40-goal campaign in 16 years (Glen Murray in 2002-03). Well, simply said, it’s about dreaming big. Brad Marchand’s 2016-17 campaign finished just one shy and it’s no stretch of the imagination that either he or Pastrnak will likely find themselves on the other side of that threshold in the next few seasons. Meanwhile, 50 goals have been surpassed just 11 times in the B’s history by just five different forwards – compare that with the 31 times 11 different players have hit 40. Fifty, being the half-century round number… it just has more “zazz.”
2019: Close (by Rate) but No Cigar
Over the past three seasons, David Pastrnak has scored 107 goals in 223 games for an average of just over 39 goals per 82. Over the same span, the Czech sniper has 743 shots for an average of 273 per 82. His most recent season was his best: 39 goals in 66 games for a projected 82-game pace of 48.5 and 293.2 shots.
As one can already see, Pastrnak is very close to approaching the rates and counting stats necessary for 50-goal contention. Still, he’s shot at a very high rate during the recent three-year span: 14.4%, a number that experienced a relative summit, rolling in at 16.2% in 2018-19. Could he shoot higher? Sure, but he finished 42nd in the NHL in that regard last season among players with at least 41 games played. An outlier season could be in the cards, but it took Leon Draisaitl a crazy-unsustainable 21.6% shooting to reach 50 in 2018-19. It’s wholly unreasonable to expect such heights (in shooting percentage) from Pastrnak. A bump? Maybe. But an Alex Tanguay-sized bump (he of the 18.5% career shooting)… unlikely.
It’s probably not extra feasible to expect an explosion of shots, either. He took a positive step forward in that field in 2018-19, producing shots on goal (SOG) at a rate that would have him ninth in the league over a full 82 game season. Can he jump up with the Nathan MacKinnons, Alex Ovechkins and Tyler Seguins of the world? Possibly. MacKinnon himself made the jump from 284 to a league-leading 365 last season. But in terms of likeliness, getting more offensive production out of the triumvirate of Marchand, Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron is not as likely, given the age of his two linemates.
No Need for Miracles, Pastrnak
So, what would it take? First, he is already shooting close to frequently enough. Let’s say he tops out at 300 SOG – just seven above his personal-best pace. That would mean all he would need is a slight bump from his three-year average to a very achievable 16.7% shooting rate and 50 is a reality.
But, 300 shots don’t just happen. He would need a near-flawless attendance record. This is probably where our problems start. Pastrnak only had one 80-plus-game (a flawless 82, actually) season. He’ll need to replicate that at least one more time in the next four seasons with the club. That’s right, another thing: the clock is ticking. Not only on his six-year contract (four years remaining), but also on his linemates. Bergeron is defying his age so far, but there will come a time when he’ll have to slot lower in the lineup because he’ll be incapable of producing at Marchand and Pastrnak’s level. Whether that happens next season or the year after Pastrnak graduates to a new deal (or a new team) is up to Father Time, but it puts a damper on the opportunities for the Bruins’ No. 88 to score at retired No. 8’s level.
So, have we reached a verdict? Will Pastrnak tally a half-dollar in Gretzky’s currency? Some of the signs point to “no” or “unlikely.” But here’s one positive that might go overlooked: The kid just turned 23. NHL forwards typically reach their peak in their mid-20s. He is about to hit his mid-20s. If it weren’t for a freak accident, Pastrnak likely would’ve made it all the way to 80 games for the second consecutive season. With a bit of luck when it comes to health, Bergeron’s age regression and shooting percentage, there’s no reason to doubt that David Pastrnak will be the first player in black and gold since Cam Neely to score 50 in a single season.
All Statistics Courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and Capfriendly.com
Bob is a Boston Bruins Correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He lives in the Boston Metro Area with his wife, Amanda and their five-year-old son, Cormac.