SAN JOSE, Calif. — If the NHL’s All-Star weekend were a sexy red carpet event of, say, Oscar or Golden Globe magnitude, a breathless network TV reporter would rush up to David Pastrnak here and ask what, or who, he is wearing.
“Pasta” (his nickname alone resonates Fashion Ave.) is typically decked out in Givenchy or Zara, the stylish and pricey threads of today’s sharp-dressed hockey player. Like scoresheets from across the NHL’s 31 arenas these days, the fifth-year right winger wears ’em well.
Pastrnak, 22, is the Bruins’ sole representative at the annual NHL celebratory weekend, which kicks off Friday night with its rodeo-like skills competition that lacks only chuckwagon races. That’s followed by Saturday eve’s gimmicky 3-on-3 tournament with its abundance of open ice and goal scoring (the Pasta house special) — the very elements too often in short supply during the real games that begin in October and run well into the June playoffs.
“I actually kinda backed out,” said a grinning Pastrnak, when quizzed Thursday evening about what sartorial splendor he’ll display over the weekend. “I don’t really have anything special — I didn’t want to stick out too much.”
Not even a flamboyant hat, a growing part of his wardrobe’s thumbprint?
“No hat,” said Pastrnak, who arrived straight from a brief vacation in Cabo San Lucas. “I’ll leave that to P.K. [Subban].”
Now one of the game’s brightest offensive forces, Pastrnak has knocked home 27 goals this season and collected 56 points — both team highs — and is on pace for 45/94, what would be career bests for both metrics. Selected 25th overall in the 2014 draft, the bold Czech has grown steadily and efficiently into “the potential to be an offensive dynamo” that the International Scouting Service saw in him prior to the ’14 draft.
Today, beyond the Givenchy, Zara and ever-present beaming grin, Pastrnak has made a name as one of the game’s strongest, most dynamic shooters. His trademark: one-time slappers and wristers, often snapped off from the left faceoff circle during the power play (he and Tampa’s Brayden Point lead the league with 13 PPG strikes).
Pastrnak has the rare spatial intelligence to intuit the open space on the ice, has the speed to get there, and the strength to put the hammer down with a quick release and force the equal of any NHLer today who isn’t Alex Ovechkin.
“I was never a scorer as a young kid growing up,” said Pastrnak. “Obviously, lately, the last couple of years I’ve turned into more a scorer than playmaker . . . a little bit better than when I entered the NHL.”
In the pantheon of Bruins goal scorers, led by the likes of John Bucyk (545), Phil Esposito (459) and Rick Middleton (402), Pastrnak (now 121 and counting) is a unique Boston art form. He is short of the size and power that defined Cam Neely (344), but with the speed and guile of Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, a pair of Bruins short-timers who now have a combined 597 goals (and counting).
Hard to remember sometimes that Pastrnak, only 18 when the Bruins called him up from AHL Providence during his first pro season, is still younger than many NCAA Division 1 seniors. He grew up in Czechia, not far from the Slovakian border, and played two seasons in Sweden before reporting to the Hub for his first full training camp in September 2014.
Upon arrival, beyond his Czech and Slovak language skills, he also spoke bits of Swedish and a fair amount of English, all of it a porridge that today sometimes rolls up into a delightful blend of Czenglish. Example: chemistry. No turning the “ch” into a “k”. For Pastrnak, it’s chem-is-tree, with “chem” pronounced like “churn” or “chop”.
“That one cracks me up every time,” said Brandon McNelis, the club’s director of communications. “I was with him the day we drafted him, and it’s amazing how far his English has come; it’s excellent. He’s a curious learner, always coming up and asking what words mean or how they’re used.”
Earlier this season, the inquisitive Pastrnak made mental note of Anton Khudobin, the animated ex-Bruins Russian goalie, saying he would shake off a bad game by muttering a few swears and then getting a good night’s sleep.
A day or two later, Pastrnak noted to the media that a few swears and a good night’s rest might improve his scoring touch.
Prior to a game with the Canadiens, a French-speaking Montreal reporter quizzed Pastrnak on what it is it like to play with elite linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the reporter applying a strong French accent to the family names of each of Pasta’s linemates.
“Must be a French guy, huh?” kidded Pastrnak, who then repeated his linemates’ names as if he were sipping a glass of rose outside a Champs Elysees bistro.
Here at the All-Star weekend, given the nature of events, we won’t see how Pastrnak’s skills fully translate in today’s game. Sure, he’ll be surrounded by the league’s best shooters and scorers. But it’s only a real game, with points and standings in play, that can provide true context to any of these players’ abilities, strengths, how they separate themselves from the rest of the league’s rank and file.
By contrast to the real thing, the skills competition is a round of miniature golf, and the 3-on-3 tournament an exercise hijacked from regular-season overtime as a made-for-TV play thingy. Pastrnak might well steal the show. But like for the rest of his starry brethren, these are just fragments of a whole that has defined them as being the best in their trade.
Not that any of that concerns him.
“To me, 3-on-3 is way better than 5-on-5,” he said. “I love 3-on-3, so I am really excited by it. I think you have so much space out there to shine, and obviously you’re out there with just two other guys — it’s like kid’s hockey again, you know, back in the day?”
Back in the day, when he wore a young man’s clothes.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.