The kid danced on the ice, all alone, a fresh sheet before him. He skated through the chill of the shabby rink, looking rooted to a surface that was his, for the moment. He had been out early the day before, and the day before that.
He stickhandled and shot, setting up obstacles by the far side of Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, near the benches. He moved pucks smoothly around each other, through each other, finishing by tucking a puck in the corner of the net.
There was want in his every move.
It was a thought that would have seemed far-fetched in June, when the Bruins selected David Pastrnak in the first round of the NHL Draft. But here, now, it seems less like a dream and more like a growing possibility. The 18-year-old has a chance to make the Bruins out of training camp, a chance to be the right-shot right wing that general manager Peter Chiarelli couldn't find on the open market.
"I'm not trying to think about it," Pastrnak said. "Just play hockey."
If true — and that seems unlikely — he is the only one not thinking about it, not weighing the likelihood, not wondering and dreaming. Everyone else is.
So as Pastrnak headed to Nashville on Thursday to take part in a rookie tournament against top prospects from the Predators, Lightning, and Panthers, there was building excitement — among fans, the front office, the players.
There is also a tendency to pull back on that excitement, especially among those in position to make decisions on where Pastrnak will begin the season, whether that's back in Sweden or with the Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 8.
"I think you have to be careful there," assistant general manager Don Sweeney said. "We'll see how it goes. There's no way that we're going to get ahead of ourselves in sort of anointing him as this missing piece at this particular time. We're just going to temper expectations to allow the natural progression of the player to determine whether or not he's capable of handling the situations he's being put in. He's going to be given opportunity, as are all of our players, to fit that bill and see who comes out ahead."
This wasn't exactly the plan.
When the Bruins drafted Pastrnak, they didn't choose him with this season in mind, though a conspiracy theorist might believe otherwise. He was a player with skill and talent, one the team believed would eventually contribute. But he had just turned 18 and was just 5 feet 10 inches and 167 pounds.
"From Day 1 our scouts identified him as a game-breaking talent, and a hard-working, enthusiastic player," Sweeney said. "Those things really line up when you're thinking about the level of skill that he has to be able to bring to the game and the speed that he plays with.
"They just kept going back and identifying that he's willing to work on both sides of the puck and, like every young player, has things to learn, but the things that he has already and the skills that he has were going to be difficult to teach anybody."
They liked the player. They thought he would go before their pick, at No. 25. But he was there, available, when they picked. So they grabbed him, a player tantalizing with the skill they were missing on their roster.
They wanted to see him go through the steps. Clearly, he passed the first.
"I think he brought a higher level of skill than other players we had identified, not just in our camp, but just overall," Sweeney said. "I think he did things at a higher speed, made lots of plays, and did things with pace, so that was the progression piece that you're hoping for — he's not overwhelmed with any situation."
But wait, there's that caution again.
Said Chiarelli: "He's obviously a skill and speed package. Take it slowly. We really don't want to put him in a high-level spot quite yet. Let's see how he does at rookie camp, the national rookie tournament. And if he lights it up, maybe he gets up into the upper lines to start.
It would have been foolish for the Bruins to hope for more strength, more weight by the time Pastrnak showed up in August. It was barely more than a month after development camp, and it had been a whirlwind for Pastrnak, including multiple trips across the Atlantic.
So they didn't ask him to gain. They didn't ask him to change.
That doesn't mean they wouldn't have liked him to do so.
"Would you like to just put him in a lab and train him? Probably," Sweeney said. "He's going to have to get bigger, stronger, and continue to move along in those areas, but that's not something you do overnight, anyway."
But that doesn't mean he can't play in the NHL as is. Asked if Pastrnak would be strong enough to play for the Bruins, strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides didn't hesitate: "Absolutely."
"You see some kids that their ability — they'll be able to play," he said earlier this summer. "And every bit of strength they get, they can play even better. David Krejci, when he got in, wasn't the strongest guy on the team, but over the course of his career he's figured out how to get stronger, and now he's become so dominant.
"When he first started out he was slight, he wasn't strong, but his ability was so much better, so he could play. But then as he gets stronger and it kind of caught up, then you get the complete package. It's almost like building that complete package."
Sweeney echoed the comparison to Krejci — a player the team hopes becomes something of a big brother, a mentor, to Pastrnak — citing their wiry strength and "their on-ice awareness and their slipperiness to process the game" as factors that help both stand up to stronger competition.
But Pastrnak's lack of strength isn't the only caveat.
Wrote Sweeney in an e-mail, "Like the majority of young players, David is raw in terms of his D-zone awareness, but Claude [Julien] and his staff/organizational philosophy is really good at teaching that part of the game. Our team identity/foundation is built on all of [our] players committing to a 200-foot game.
"David will be immersed in that from Day 1 and he has shown the willingness to work on both sides of the puck, even as a young player, so that bodes well for him adapting to our system. But only time will tell if he can win his share of puck battles and board positioning."
Clearly, Pastrnak is a work in progress, especially defensively. But the good news for the Bruins is that he appears to want to do just that: work.
"I'm a skill forward and that's not what I want to show," Pastrnak said. "I want to show I can be good on defense. I'm going to be focused on my defensive things and then the shots [are] probably going to come, so I'm not focused on scoring goals or something, just focusing on [doing] my job on defense."
So, no, nothing is assured for Pastrnak. But he passed the first test with a strong showing at the team's development camp, and he has impressed in the first two games in the rookie tournament.
It's another chance for Pastrnak to prove he should be among those considered for a spot on the roster.
Pastrnak arrived in Boston a couple of weeks ago, a result of his agency reaching out to the Bruins. They expressed a desire to have him in town early and, after finding him a pair of roommates to split hotel expenses in Justin Florek and Zach Trotman, Pastrnak returned to what could be his new home.
After all, what else does he have to do?
"Here I'm with the NHL guys and I can practice even harder here [than in Sweden]," Pastrnak said. "I don't have anything else than hockey. I came here just for practice and to make the NHL."
He still has a long way to go.
As Sweeney said, "He hasn't seen the likes of Zdeno Chara and [Johnny] Boychuk, 6-foot-5-inch guys leaning on him all day long, so that's going to be a bit of an adjustment for him."
In fact, Pastrnak has seen Chara and judged him — mostly joking — as "kind of scary."
It's that personality, that ability to take things lightly, that might help Pastrnak too, as he vies to play in the NHL at such a tender age.
"He's not intimidated, like he's got a good personality that way," Sweeney said.
"I think he's got a good perspective on coming and trying to make a team and giving his best effort in that regard, learning. I like how he's got that little bit of an infectious personality and character to him that I think will help him in that he's not going to be timid and shy — he's just going to go out and play hockey and then hopefully learn as best he can going along."
And the Bruins will learn about him.
They'll learn if he can play as well as did at development camp, if he can stand up to NHL players in the same way. They'll temper their enthusiasm, trying not to picture him in a spoked-B on the Garden ice quite yet, even as the excitement is obvious.
Instead, they'll be testing out the understatement of Pastrnak himself, who said it was too early to start talking to Patrice Bergeron about playing in the NHL at 18. Not now. Not yet.
"I try to work hard every day," Pastrnak said. "We will see if it's going to be enough for the NHL."