The NHL Draft is always a fun time of year; you never know what surprises it will bring. Sometimes a player will go earlier than projected to fill a team's needs; sometimes a player will fall to later in a round (or into the next round) due to recent injuries or other circumstances. Sometimes a team will use a draft pick as a bargaining chip to ensure their future or plug a hole in their lineup. This year's draft should be no different, as outside of the top five picks, nothing seems to be set in stone. That bodes well for the New Jersey Devils, who are locked in to the last selection in the draft, as some times might skip over a player due to perceived missing components of their game. As a defense-first franchise, the Devils would have no problem teaching defense to an offensive-minded player; someone like David Pastrnak.
Who is David Pastrnak?
David Pastrnak was born on May 25th 1996 in Havirov, Czech Republic. In the same vein as Ondrej Kase from about a week ago, he is an undersized winger standing 6'0" tall and weighing in at 168 pounds. He started his career in the Czech Republic system, playing for the junior clubs of HC Havirov, AZ Havirov, and HC Trinec. At the end of the 2011-2012 season, he transferred to Sweden's HockeyAllsvenskan league the second highest league in the Swedish ice hockey system. His Swedish career began with the junior club of Sodertalje for 2012-2013, while still representing the Czech Republic internationally. This past season he jumped up from the junior club and played for Sodertalje while again representing his country for international competition. Here are his stats from Elite Prospects:
Further statistics for Pastrnak were not easy to come by, as the official website of HockeyAllsvenskan seems to be readying for the 2014-2015 season; even after translating, there did not appear to be any stats. From there, I followed their link to Sodertalje's official website, and they're using the statistics from Elite Prospects! Of note from the stats we do have is that he finished the 2011-2012 season with awards for having the most goals (41) and points (68) in the Czech U-18 for that year.
This past year in international play saw him post decent stats, as he went 3-7-10 in 12 games of U-18 play, and 3-2-5 in 11 games of U-20 play. His stat line of 8-16-24 in 36 games might not be all that jaw-dropping, but we have to keep in mind two things; not only was he an underage player in the league but Sodertalje was pretty bad, finishing 12th out of the 14 teams.
What Others Have Said About Pastrnak
Elite Prospects has a short summary of Pastrnak written before this past season which summarizes his on-ice strengths:
Pasternak is a flashy, electrifying offensive talent with gifted hands and shiftiness in his feet. He also has a bullet shot and is a very dangerous finisher. He uses quickness and good lateral elusiveness to avoid bigger opponents.
Pastrnak seems to use his lack of size to his advantage, rather than let it be a detriment. Gifted hands, a bullet shot, and being a dangerous finisher are all good qualities that are somewhat lacking in the Devils system currently. NHL.com's scouting however seems to have some mixed thoughts about Pastrnak; one staff writer's mock draft sees him go at #11, while a second has him slip out of the first round. NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb, when asked about the top Czech-born prospects (Pastrnak and Jakub Vrana) in this draft, offered some mixed praise for David:
David is an offensive-minded player with smooth hands, great instincts and a very quick shot," Stubb said. "He's an excellent skater with speed and acceleration. He's very smart on ice, but will need more weight and strength to excel at the next level.
This mostly reinforces Elite Prospects' views about Pastrnak, but with one key difference; Stubb expresses concern about Pastrnak's smaller frame, rather than seeing it as a strength that allows him to elude larger opponents. This leads me to believe drafting Pastrnak could be high-risk, high-reward. Hockey's Future shares Stubb's concerns (as well as mine), as they see Pastrnak as an explosive offense talent, but reveal areas of his overall game that could use improvement:
Pastrnak is an exciting, highly-skilled offensive winger with a hard, accurate shot and scoring instincts. Not overly abrasive, he uses his agility and quick reaction time to avoid defenders and put himself into prime scoring areas.
Pastrnak made the move from the Czech Republic to Sweden in hopes of furthering his career and was successful at the higher level of play. While his defensive game is still a work in progress - and he will need to add mass and strength to compete in North American pro hockey - he has the potential to be an effective scoring forward.
Eldon MacDonald of The Hockey Writers offers similar praise for Pastrnak's offense abilities, but also questions his defensive capabilities, and offers a possible projection of where he could go and how he could turn out:
His defense needs a lot of work and he is of a slight build.
In the teens on most lists; a team needing offense may take him quite high thinking they will get an Ales Hemsky like player. Other teams, looking at his build and defense may back off until the end of the first round if he is still there.
MacDonald does note that teams looking for offense might scoop him up, but also states that he could fall down the list due to his stature and lack of defense. While far from a guarantee, there is a chance he could be available for our first selection of the draft. As a right-handed left winger, Pastrnak might be worth taking a chance on to play with Travis Zajac and our Czech-born, left-handed right winger Jaromir Jagr (come on, at the rate he's going, he's never going to retire) somewhere down the line.
Future of Tomorrow offers another projection of Pastrnak, worrying more about his size than lack of defense, and stating that he seems like he's a few years off from being in the league, rather than being an impact player straight out of the draft:
Pastrnak is difficult to pass up given his skillset. It is essential that Pastrnak works on his physical traits and becomes larger to play in the NHL but he has the potential to be one of the best prospects in the draft with development. He is a dynamic playmaker with excellent skating, puckhandling and is an extremely good finisher.
His potential is that of a Top 6 forward, who could play top line minutes if needed...Pastrnak's spot in the draft is not indicative of his talent but instead a sign that he still has development ahead of him.
Despite his apparent defensive shortcomings and lack of size, his potential is obvious, so much so that Radoslav Vavřina of EuroHockey.com ranks Pastrnak at #1 on his list of the top 10 Czech prospects in this year's draft. Back at the end of November, he had these words of Pastrnak overtaking Vrana for the top spot:
While it was Jakub Vrána who entered the season as top prospect from the Czech Republic, David Pastrňák is slowly overtaking the lead. It all started in August at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Břeclav, Czech Republic, where Pastrňák appeared to be more dangerous than Vrána. The native of Havířov continued his pace among pros, leading Södertälje's first team in points after roughly 20 games of Swedish Allsvenskan. With 14 points, Pastrňák means business and looks to settle in the draft rankings in the first round.
While most his age are playing for U-18 or U-20 teams, Pastrnak was a prospect playing among men, and was doing quite well for himself. I seem to remember someone else being highly valued for doing the same and playing at a high level. Pastrnak was leading his team in points to begin the season and then, well, sadly this happened:
Pastrnak would suffer a season-ending concussion as a result of this hit; his 24 total points accrued before the injury would still see him finish in first on the club despite him missing the final 16 games.
A Little Video
This video's title focuses more on William Nylander (88 in white) than it does Pastrnak (96), but it does a good job highlighting both. Pastrnak's speed, great passing ability, and on-ice instincts are all on display here; the assist on the second goal speaks for itself.
I had a second video showing Pastrnak at the WJC scoring a pretty nice looking goal, however the video (which was live as of Tuesday) was removed yesterday due to the poster's account being terminated. It's a shame too because it really was a good example of Pastrnak's ability to get into position around the net and finish strong.
An Opinion of Sorts
While some projections have Pastrnak's stock slipping despite being ranked as the fifth best European skater available, I wouldn't be surprised if he was gone before we got near the podium. He has great instincts, which is something that can't be taught, and I could definitely see a team looking for an offensive winger snagging him in the middle of the first round. Despite missing 16 games, he was still the leading scorer for Sodertalje at the end of their season as a 17 year old playing in a league of men. He's also a great play-maker, and from the few videos I've seen, along with what has been said of him, he seems to be great at passing and setting up his teammates.
He does have some drawbacks however, namely that multiple sources have reported that his defense needs work and he's a smaller player. Defense, unlike instincts, can be taught, and as I mentioned before what better franchise to teach defense than ours? His size is another issue, but that could be worked on before this season, as well as following seasons, provided we don't strike out in free agency and have to rush his development. That scenario could be a disaster in our system, since the Devils like to grind and play strong on the boards; Pastrnak would probably have trouble doing so at this point due to his smaller stature.
I'm also worried about his goal scoring ability; it concerns me that a player described as a "dangerous finisher" only averaged a goal every 4 games or so, both for Sodertalje, and in international play. This could be due to the league he was playing in, or possibly just the fact that he didn't take a lot of shots. If the latter was the case, I can't find the statistics to prove it (thanks a lot HockeyAllsvenskan website), but hopefully one of the Devils' scouts can dig up some additional stats as to why his goal totals were so low this season. We need to draft some pure goal scorers at some point, and if that's what we're looking for, we may need to shop elsewhere.
It's obvious that the Devils lack skilled forwards in their pipeline, but I also might be wary of drafting Pastrnak due to another undersized European winger that was touted similarly before his draft and did not pan out in the NHL for New Jersey. All kidding aside, if Pastrnak's stock does fall, due to his size, lack of defense, his concussion, or any combination of the three, I wouldn't mind scooping him up with the final pick of round 1. Considering that he's #11 in one mock draft, #26 in another, and wasn't even in the first round in a third, it's possible he could be available. We need more forwards in our prospect pool, and one with the skill set of Pastrnak would definitely be a step towards strengthening our pipeline.
What are your thoughts about Pastrnak as a prospect? What do you like about him? Is there anything you do not like about him? If he is available, would you want the Devils to draft him? Do you think he would be a good fit for our system? Please leave your answers and other discussion about David Pastrnak in the comments section below.