Ready or not, the 2017-2018 NHL regular season begins on Wednesday night and the Bruins officially kick things off by hosting the defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators on Thursday (7, NESN) at TD Garden. After that, the B’s get a visit from the Avalanche on Columbus Day afternoon (1, NESN) before heading out on a quick three-game West Coast road trip to Colorado, Arizona and Las Vegas (you’ll recall that this is the Golden Knights’ inaugural season in the NHL). After missing the postseason for two agonizing years, the B’s gave their fans a small morsel of playoff hockey last spring as they fell 4-2 in a grinder of a first-round series against the Ottawa Senators with every game decided by one goal (including 4 in OT where the Sens went 3-1). In 2016-17, Boston finished in third-place in the Atlantic Division despite a mid-season coaching change (that was frankly long overdue) from Claude Julien (who is now ironically enough Montreal’s head coach) to former Bruins assistant coach Bruce Cassidy.
The team clearly responded to that drastic move as they went from out of the playoff picture into a Top-8 club in the Eastern Conference. At times, it’s easier to provide a temporary spark when players are fighting for many things (playing time, positive attention from the new coach, contracts, etc.) so Cassidy in that sense has his work cut out for him in this campaign since it’s unquestionably his team after the Boston brass pledged their commitment to him following the late April exit vs. Ottawa. Getting star right wing David Pastrnak to ink a long-term deal with the Bruins was the team’s main objective of the summer and while it took them until basically the last-second on the eve of training camp to sign a shockingly fair deal (6 years, $40 million), let the record show that they did get it done in time (no unsightly holdout was needed).
It’s too simple to say that the Bruins will go based on how Pastrnak performs but clearly they will need him to keep developing into the deadly goal-scorer that he proved to be last season with 34 goals & 36 assists. Pastrnak is still only 21-years-old but this will be his fourth season in the NHL. Along with age should come strength and durability, meaning that Boston would love to see him appear in even more games this season than he did last year (75). It looks like he’ll be on Boston’s second forward line with rookie left winger Jake DeBrusk and veteran center David Krejci.
There is no reason that Pastrnak cannot continue to develop into one of the elite offensive players in the game because he possesses the usual traits that you see in those special talents: he’s fast, has a booming shot (especially on one-timers which you’ll see plenty of when he’s on the top power-play unit), he’s creative with the puck and has that magical ability to almost always be in the right place for juicy rebounds. Scoring 40+ goals is headline news in today’s goal-starved NHL but the Czech Republic native should have every opportunity to reach that lofty milestone in the next few years. He also could likewise reach 40+ assists sometime soon, granted that hinges much more on the ability of the players around him rather than just himself.