When David Pastrnak was recalled from Providence on Jan. 6, the question surrounding the 18-year-old was if he had learned enough and could contribute enough that it would be worth burning the first year of his entry-level contract.
Now with his eighth career game in the books, and the ominous 10-game benchmark within view, the question has drastically shifted to how the Bruins can afford to not keep him around.
Boston’s 2014 first-round selection, and the league’s youngest player, followed a career night in Philadelphia with a potentially even greater showing. Pastrnak scored two more goals Tuesday night, his second-consecutive two-goal performance, as the Bruins beat the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-3, at TD Garden.
“I think he’s making a case for himself,” coach Claude Julien said. “We see what he can do; I enjoy watching him play. I think he’s made unbelievable strides in a half-year of being in Providence and coming up with us a little bit and going back.
“I think it was good for him to see certain things that he wanted to improve on, and he’s such a smart player, he knows; he figures those things out pretty quickly. I think he’s come back an even better player. His speed, his skill level, was never an issue. But he’s becoming more reliable in other areas as well and he’s not afraid to go to the corners.”
Everything the Bruins have claimed to love about the young Czech was on full display during his first goal, initiated by a give-and go with Milan Lucic in the neutral zone.
Once Pastrnak received the puck, he hit the nitro button as he crossed the blue line, churning by Lightning defender Matt Carle as he skated through the left face-off dot. As he broke for the goal, Pastrnak maintained possession with his left hand while muscling off Carle with his right mitt to gain the inside edge.
By the time he was slicing across the top of the crease, Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop was already on his stomach, a last-ditch poke check the only thing separating the young speedster from a vacant cage.
Bishop missed. Pastrnak wouldn’t.
He celebrated his first goal in front of the Garden faithful with a kiss to the crowd, and the fans were only happy to reciprocate in adoration with the game tied at 2.
“I think [David Krejci] was changing and so I turned into the middle and I got the puck from the end and I did a give-and-go with [Lucic],” Pastrnak said. “He give it to me good and then I just, I don’t know; somehow I get there and then I scored.”
Torey Krug put a shot on frame that Bishop steered to the left post, where Pastrnak camped out behind the goal line.
His first shift of the third period proved equally fruitful, the Bruins staking a 4-2 advantage just 90 seconds removed from intermission.
The rookie collected the puck, flipped it from his backhand to his forehand, and sprinted around the back of the net, his wraparound beating both Bishop and Valtteri Filppula to the far post.
Another goal. Another kiss for the 17,565 fans in attendance.
“Yeah, it’s unbelievable,” Reilly Smith said. “You can’t really expect that out of a young guy, but he’s doing a great job stepping in here and making a difference as soon as he steps on the ice and pretty much every shift.”
Come Thursday evening after Boston’s home contest with the New York Rangers, Bruins brass will convene to decide Pastrnak’s fate — stay in Boston or develop in Providence.
Regardless of the decision, Pastrnak is concerned only with the fact that he has helped contribute to his club’s four-game win streak.
“That’s not my decision,” Pastrnak said. “I’m just trying to play my best for the team, and that’s what I’m focusing on.”
Andrew MacDougall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.