Amid talent drain, David Pastrnak will need to shoulder Bruins scoring burden out the gate

Bruins

“You should get excited to take a step forward and continue what those two guys built.”

Pavel Zacha #18 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with David Pastrnak #88 after scoring a goal against the New Jersey Devils during the first period at TD Garden on April 08, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts.
David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha will likely skate together in Boston’s top-six unit in 2023-24. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

You can’t quantify the intangibles and veteran mettle that the Bruins lost over a painful offseason.

But you can certainly tally up the pure production now sapped from Boston’s roster.

Just up front, the Bruins lost Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek, and Tyler Bertuzzi over the summer.

That critical chunk of Boston’s forward corps accounted for 80 goals and 210 total points during the Bruins’ record-setting regular season in 2022-23.

The unenviable task of accounting for some of that lost production will fall on a mix of free-agent additions, returning contributors, and ideally, a grouping of younger players looking to push their way up to the NHL ranks.

But as Jim Montgomery and his staff try to compile the best possible 12-man unit up front in 2023-24, the responsibility will fall on David Pastrnak’s shoulders to serve as Boston’s offensive conduit amid an overhauled roster.

“Pretty sure it’s gonna kick in as things get started — those two legendary guys in Boston are retired now,” Pastrnak said Monday of Bergeron and Krejci’s retirement. “So it’s definitely gonna kick in. I’m gonna miss them a lot.

“But [it’s] opportunities for other guys, and there are some spots to grab. And for us as a team, you should get excited to take a step forward and continue what these two guys built.”

For all of the questions and concerns regarding the Bruins’ diminished firepower up front this season, having a howitzer in Pastrnak gives Montgomery a good foundation to build around.

The 27-year-old winger is just now entering his prime, and is coming off of a 61-goal, 113-point season that saw him finish second behind Connor McDavid in Hart Trophy voting for league MVP.

Amid the uncertainty surrounding the constitution of Boston’s top-six unit, Pastrnak stands to serve as a cheat code in the offensive zone for a Bruins club that will need him to stuff the stat sheet early and often.

Regardless of the personnel around him, Pastrnak’s potent one-timer can still do plenty of damage both at even strength and power-play reps, while his growing repertoire of dekes and dangles can turn a simple cut inside into a Grade-A look.

With Pavel Zacha set to slot in for Krejci as one of Boston’s new top-six centers, the Bruins are hoping that another full season stapled next to Pastrnak will further unlock more playmaking capabilities for their latest pivot.

“There’s a lot of spots to be taken and opportunities,” Pastrnak said of Boston’s revamped lineup. “So we played with Pav, same language, same nationality. It’s a very easy transition to play with him. He’s a very smart hockey player. He can adapt.

“Not every hockey player has that talent to adapt to the other players and he has it. I think it’s gonna be very easy for him to adapt — either if he’s playing center or on the wing or [different] linemates. I obviously had some great games with him and got to know him a lot. So excited to see what he got for us this year.”

Playing next to Krejci and Pastrnak all of last season, Zacha posted a career-high 57 points in 2022-23 — 21 points above his previous top single-season scoring output. Of course, having a poised playmaker in the middle like Krejci can help any gifted forward bolster their stats.

But even when Krejci wasn’t in the lineup, the duo of Pastrnak and Zacha were still productive together.

In the 445 minutes of 5v5 ice time where Krejci, Pastrnak, and Zacha all skated together during 5v5 play last year, the Bruins were actually outshot, 231-220. In the 161 minutes of 5v5 reps where Zacha and Pastrnak skated without Krejci, the Bruins outshot opponents, 93-77.

When the “Czech-mates” line was together, the Bruins boasted an expected goals scored per 60-minute rate of 2.37. Without Krejci, that scoring output bumped up to 3.09.

However, the absence of Krejci did see Boston’s expected goals against per 60 minute rate also spike from 2.63 to 3.14 when Zacha and Pastrnak skated together.

The Bruins will need more defensive fortitude from this duo, which could be aided by slotting a capable defensive forward next to them at left wing.

It remains to be seen how Montgomery and his staff assemble Boston’s forward corps during camp.

But regardless of how Boston’s roster sorts itself out, the 2023-24 club will not have the luxury of elite scoring talent sprinkled up and down the lineup.

If the Bruins are going to land punches in the O-zone during their centennial season, a majority of it is going to come off of Pastrnak’s stick.

“I never had like rules for linemates,” Pastrnak said of reworking his line this season. “I try to learn from the guys that play here and see what kind of style they want to play. The easiest way for all three is communication and then try to adapt to each other. So communication and getting to know each other is definitely important.”

Other Bruins notes

Count Pastrnak among the long list of Bruins who are happy to have Milan Lucic back in Boston’s dressing room.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been on a team, but I always remember my first couple years — he’s one of those guys that helped me as a human being and a player to [get] where I’m at. I was really sad, I still remember the day he got traded. So it brings some memories back and I’m really excited to have him back, just like the whole city is.”

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Danton Heinen, looking to carve out a roster spot with Boston once again after signing a PTO deal this summer, says he no issue with the 2020 trade that sent him out to Anaheim in exchange for Nick Ritchie.

“It’s a business,” Heinen said Monday. “It caught me off guard a little bit. But that’s the nature of the beast. Those things happen and I loved my time here. It is what it is. No hard feelings. I’m happy to be back.”

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The Bruins announced several changes to their hockey operations staff on Monday, including the hiring of John McLean as their new assistant coach.

McLean fills the vacancy on Montgomery’s staff that has been present since John Gruden left the team during the offseason to become the head coach of the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

McLean spent last season as a skills and skating consultant for the Bruins while also serving as the head coach for the boys hockey team at Austin Prep. The Boston College alum is expected to serve as an eye-in-the-sky resource for the Bruins during games while also focusing on player development.

Montgomery told the Boston Herald last month that returning assistant coaches in Joe Sacco and Chris Kelly will see their roles shift in 2023-24. Sacco will run the team’s defense, while Chris Kelly will be given the keys to Boston’s power-play unit. 


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