It has been over eight weeks since Boston Bruins’ winger David Pastrnak last set foot on TD Garden ice.
Their Halloween clash against the Tampa Bay Lighting was when B’s fans last saw their 19-year-old sophomore forward before suffering a broken foot in the same game.
As the New Year begins, the Bruins are in desperate need of offense with the news of first-line center David Krejci’s upper-body injury is “week-to-week” while Brad Marchand still has two games left on his three-game punishment from the NHL for a low hit against Ottawa last week.
The Winter Classic was a showcase of just how ineffective and inept Boston’s attack is without their top playmaker and goal scorer. Patrice Bergeron (35 points) and Loui Eriksson (33) are no slouches but they need some help to drive the attack with Krejci and Marchand out.
Boston assigns David Pastrnak to @AHLBruins. Didn't see that coming.
— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) January 4, 2016
That help could soon be coming in the form of Pastrnak, who on Monday was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) after being loaned to the Czech Republic’s squad at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
The Havirov native registered four points from four games and returns to the states to get some extra seasoning before eventually coming back to Boston.
It will be a welcome sight to see Pastrnak back in Black (and Gold) but some questions have yet to be answered on just how effective he will be and where he will be utilized.
When Will He Play?
Anyone who’s played the game knows that it can take a fair bit of time to recover from any sort of lower-body injury. In Pastrnak’s case, having not skated for almost two months is sure to come with some sluggishness for the first handful of games.
Even with a conditioning stint in the AHL that will last a handful of games, the Bruins brass along with coach Claude Julien will have to be cautious with one of their most prized possessions.
Their number one pick in 2014 is still a raw talent and should not be rushed back into the lineup. Yes, Boston could use his speed and shot but they also want Pastrnak to run at peak performance down the stretch.
Given that every game this season could be the difference between playing in the playoffs and watching them, Boston’s brain trust will have to make the somewhat tough decision as to when their super sophomore will take to the ice again. Each passing game where the Bruins struggle to score and generate chances could have fans making the decision for general manager Don Sweeney.
Where Will He Play?
There are two plausible options to answer the dilemma of where Pastrnak will line up when he makes his inevitable return to the Bruins lineup.
A top-line spot alongside a presumably healthy Krejci and Matt Beleskey is tempting given the Czech connection between center and right-wing. The combination of Krejci’s hands with Pastrnak’s speed and finish coupled with Beleskey’s knack for dirty, net-front goals is a pretty good combination to have.
This would push Eriksson down to the second line alongside Marchand and Bergeron, which has shown the ability to generate chemistry when grouped together. It would be a win-win for Julien as he would have a top-six that has forwards who bring a potpourri of skill to the ice.
A more sensible option is to pair Pastrnak with center Ryan Spooner. The duo formed instant chemistry and were two of Boston’s best players down the stretch last season. Spooner scored 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in Boston’s final 24 games while Pastrnak tallied 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in that time frame.
Pair them with rookie Frank Vatrano and it could be one of the most dangerous third lines in the League. The combination of youth, speed, skill, and potential would be a nightmare for opposing lower-pair defensemen to handle night in and night out.
David Pastrnak’s foreseeable return to the Bruins lineup is a welcome sight for those who still have sore eyes from the Winter Classic. The speedy winger may be just what Boston’s offense needs to get going in the absence of his fellow countryman.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW