WILMINGTON — David Pastrnak is just 18 years old, only 171 pounds or so, drafted less than a month ago. All signs should point to him spending at least another year getting bigger and stronger and faster in the Swedish League.
But Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli — in need of both a right-shot forward and cheap labor to comply with the salary cap — did not rule out Pastrnak competing for one of three open roster spots with the NHL club come training camp in September.
“You never know,” Chiarelli said Sunday, the final day of the team’s five-day development camp. “I don’t want to place too much of a burden on this kid’s shoulders, but he was good. The hesitation you have is he’s 170, 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. He’s young. To throw someone like that at his age, at that weight — but there’s been guys that have done it.”
Both Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin joined the Bruins in the season after they were drafted, as Pastrnak would be doing, and Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton both played with the team as teenagers.
“I was pleased with Pastrnak,” Chiarelli said. “There’s only been a couple of players that have showed that at these camps over the years. So he’s still got a little bit of a ways to go, but I’m very happy with Pastrnak.”
While Chiarelli has been working on filling that right-shot void via trade or free agency, it’s possible that the promise of Pastrnak could put those discussions on hold. Chiarelli said, “What it did was [make me think], ‘Wow, I’ve got to take a second look at this,’ understanding that he’s 171 pounds.”
The good news for the Bruins is that they’ll have time to evaluate the right wing. As soon as the team gets Pastrnak signed to his entry-level contract — there is a deadline Tuesday under the Swedish transfer agreement, though signing him after that just comes with additional payments to the federation — they will be able to bring him to training camp.
But the team also will have a nine-game window in which to potentially watch him play in the NHL without burning a year of that entry-level contract.
And it’s just possible that’s what the Bruins could do.
“There’s a progression, right?” Chiarelli said. “There’s the camp, right — bigger, stronger, faster. There’s the preseason — bigger, stronger, faster. And then with the under-20 players you’ve got that cushion, you’ve got that nine games, again — bigger, stronger, faster, regular season.
“So there’s three levels there. In my time here, and before I was here, we’ve had under-20 players play. I’ve been part of under-20 players playing, teenagers. They go through each of those stages and it’s another test, another test, then you make the decision.”
There are other candidates for the forward spots — players such as Matt Fraser, Justin Florek, Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev — but none of them is quite perfect. Some are centers, all are left shots, and the Bruins would prefer to have a right shot, as both of their departing right wings were.
Chiarelli said he would continue to scour the free agent and trade markets for a suitable replacement, but Pastrnak’s price and position are certainly tempting, if he can demonstrate that he’s ready.
“It gives you flexibility,” Chiarelli said. “There’s not a lot of guys out there that can shoot it, that you can automatically put on that half wall for the one-timer, so it may be that that guy is not available.
“It’s a task that I’ll continue to look at the rest of the summer and into the fall, even as we progress. There are guys out there that we’re looking at right now. We’ve got some internal guys that you might be able to put in that are ready or very close to being ready.”
And, suddenly, Pastrnak has entered the discussion, too.
He’ll keep working
The Bruins have some crucial free agents up after next season, including David Krejci, Johnny Boychuk, and Carl Soderberg. Lucic is up the following season. That means the Bruins will need to find some space in their salary cap structure to sign their players if, as Chiarelli often says, he would like to keep his core together.
“I’m not going to go into detail as to our negotiations,” he said. “I can say that we’ll try and get some guys done. I try and be proactive. We’re working on a couple things right now.”
Krejci, who is making $5.25 million this season, stands to get a significant bump, with the new contracts handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million average annual value, eight years) having an impact on any new deal.
“When the cap’s expected to rise, teams will continue to spend more money,” Chiarelli said. “It’s hard to delve into a completely free market because you saw some of those deals and all it takes is one other team to pay that money or term and you’re right there with them then. So that’s why we’re trying to keep the guys we can keep. And we’re going to have to pay the money. It’s not going to be cheap.’’
With Spooner and Khokhlachev being considered for the NHL club — both natural centers — there is a chance that Gregory Campbell could be moved to the wing. Chiarelli said that has been discussed internally. It would be similar to the move the Bruins made last season to push Chris Kelly to the wing to allow Soderberg to play his natural center position, a move that worked well . . . All of the players who were injured at the end of the season, including Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, and Kelly, are progressing as scheduled, and are expected to be ready for the start of training camp . . . Matt Bartkowski’s salary arbitration hearing is set for July 30, but Chiarelli said he believes the team will get a contract signed before that date . . . Assistant coach interviews are ongoing, with no decision yet on the replacement for Geoff Ward, Chiarelli said . . . Defenseman Linus Arnesson is not a candidate to play in the AHL next season, per the agreement with his Swedish club. He will attend training camp, then return to Sweden . . . Chiarelli mentioned Arnesson and Anton Blidh as other players who had strong development camps. “I was happy,” he said. “That’s the most skill we’ve had in a long time at this camp.”