Welcome to another prospect profile here at AATJ! Today, we are going to take a look at American winger and solid point producer Sasha Pastujov. Born in Florida, Sasha has risen through the American hockey system, and he joined the US National Team Development Program for the start of the 2019-2020 season. He has had a productive two seasons for both the national team and in the USHL as part of the USNTDP Juniors. Thanks to this, he has garnered potential first-round consideration, although rankings for him are admittedly pretty varied, and others have him as a second rounder, even as a late one.
Given that, however, our New Jersey Devils do have picks in that range, the 29th overall pick from the Isles, as well as the Isles second-round pick at 61 overall. They do not, of course, have their own second-round selection at 36 overall thanks to the trade that brought Nikita Gusev to New Jersey, and boy, that didn’t pan out huh? Nonetheless, the team will most likely have at least one chance to draft Sasha Pastujov, and perhaps two chances, so let’s take a look at him.
Who is Sasha Pastujov?
Sasha stands at 6 foot even and weighs 183 pounds according to Elite Prospects. Given he is a winger, that really is not bad at all, and 6 foot is a good size. Depending on how he and his coaches want his game to develop, he could add muscle to that, or he could remain in a smaller frame. This is especially prevalent given his extremely late July 15, 2003 birthdate. He is still 17 years old now, and will not turn 18 for another 6 days. So whereas some kids in this draft class played most of this past season as an 18-year old, Sasha played the entirety of it as a 17-year old. This can work in his favor in multiple ways. First, it gives him more time to develop, physically as I just brought up with his size, and also with his game. Next, it makes his numbers look that much more impressive, as he did everything this past year at 17, and the year before at 16.
And those numbers, since entering the USNTDP, have been pretty darn good. As a 16-year old in 2019-20, he produced at a point per game for the National U17 Team, with 50 points in 49 games. He almost hit that mark in the USHL for the USNTDP Juniors as well, with 26 points in 29 games. The majority of those points, in both scenarios, were assists, as he only had a combined 23 goals in those 76 points. The following year, this past season, he would see a nice jump in his goal production to complement those high assist numbers. In 41 games for the National U18 Team, he had 65 points, a very large number, with 30 of those points coming as goals, a near split with his 35 assists. And in the USHL this past season, he had 26 points in 18 games, with 10 goals and 16 assists. It was a year that showed a lot of growth for Sasha, both in terms of goal scoring and overall point production, as he was much above the point per game pace he was around the year prior.
Sasha also played internationally these past two years as well, and was just as productive there as he was in the USA. At the World Hockey Challenge for U17 in 2019-20, he had 8 points in 6 games, although only 1 goal. This past year, at the U18 World Juniors, he had 8 points in 5 games, with 5 of those points coming as goals. He was dominant for an American squad that finished 5th out of 10 teams.
Overall, I think you have to look at his production as a positive, especially considering the strong growth you can see between this past year and the year before that. He was a strong point producer in 2019-20, but was mostly a playmaker. This year, he upped his point totals by a fair margin, and it was almost exclusively because he became a better goal scorer to complement his playmaking abilities. He didn’t cannibalize his ability to dish the puck, but instead added strong goal production to go along with it. Coaches will have to like that. They may also like that this fall, Sasha has committed to the NCAA route, and will be attending Notre Dame, playing hockey there. He would play for the Guelph Storm if he opted out of that and went the CHL route, but don’t count on that happening. He will be with the Fighting Irish come the start of the NCAA season.
Where is Pastujov Ranked?
Despite the strong offensive numbers, Pastujov is not generally loved by analysts putting out rankings. He’s loved enough that everyone expects him to go before round 3, but some think he is a first-round talent, while many others have him pegged to go in round 2.
-Central Scouting ranks him as the #18 North American skater, which depending on positioning with the European skaters, could get him into the back end of the first round.
-Elite Prospects is the lowest on Pastujov that I have listed here, ranking him #56 overall, near the end of the second.
-Future Considerations has him ranked #42 overall, kind of in the middle of everyone.
-While I can only see the top 31 for McKeen’s without paying, Elite Prospects notes that they have him ranked #50 overall.
-Dobber Prospects ranks him #40 overall, very similar to FC.
-The Draft Analyst has him just outside the first round, ranking him #34 overall.
-The Hockey Writers is right behind the Draft Analyst, ranking him #35.
-Smaht Scouting has him around the same, #33 overall.
-Among the Canadian broadcast rankings, Sportsnet and Craig Button do not have him ranked in their top 32. Bob McKenzie, on the other hand, has him #29 overall, exactly where the Devils pick in the first round.
What Others Have Said About Pastujov?
Ben Kerr had his profile up on Sasha over a month ago at the Last Word on Sports. I love that he breaks down the scouting report into categories, and I will clip quotes from each section that I feel paint a picture, although I recommend reading the entire thing if you are interested in doing so.
-Skating: “Pastujov’s skating is a bit hit or miss. His stride is short and choppy. This takes away from his explosiveness and acceleration. However, once he gets moving, his top speed is very good”...”agility and edgework are already at a very high level”...”can fight through checks and get to dirty areas.”
-Offensive Game: “Pastujov is a very smart player. He reads the play extremely well and has excellent vision”...”is an excellent passer”...”sets up teammates with quick passes and creates scoring chances”...”good at skating the puck through the neutral zone and generating effective zone entries”...”really improved his shot over the past year”...”shot is accurate and features decent power”...”willing to battle for position in front of the net.”
-Defensive Game: “Pastujov’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. When he comes back and supports the defence with backpressure against the rush, he does a really good job”...”he can be a bit too focused on the puck and chase it”...”can have a tendency to fly the zone and try to create an odd-man rush.”
-Projection and Comparison: “Pastujov is a boom or bust prospect. He has the offensive skill necessary to become a top-six winger if he reaches his ceiling. Pastujov projects as an offensive winger who can create at even strength and play on the power play going forward.”
Kerr has a stylistic comparison to Blake Wheeler for Sasha. He loves his offensive game, especially with the improved shot, thinks his skating is all right but could be better, needs to focus more on defense, but overall thinks he has a chance to be a top-six guy. Have to like that potential in the second or late first.
Next, we have the scouting report from Smaht Scouting. This is again broken down into parts of his game, so I will do that here, but again, I recommend reading it all if you are interested.
-Skating: “Arguably the most impressive trait in his game”...”edgework is among the best in the 2021 Draft Class”...”Pastujov’s agility is another quality aspect of his skating that allows him to create rushes in transition with ease”...”is quite strong on his skates”...”could benefit from working on his explosiveness, as well as his takeoffs.”
-Offence: “elite-level dual threat left-winger who can stickhandle in a phone booth and search out teammates with poise”...”on the shortlist for Best Passers in the 2021 Draft Class”...”incredible sense of awareness to put himself in opportune positions”...”very effective from the hashmarks in to the net”...”force on the powerplay, as he can usually be found setting up shop in the high slot”...”could also benefit his draft stock by using his shot a little more, which he has been improving”...”he has a ‘won’t quit’ attitude when it comes to keeping the puck in the offensive zone.”
-Defence: “Pastujov is a well-rounded player”...”more than capable of being relied upon to help defend”...”a pest while covering the point”...”defensive game could use a little work, mainly when it comes to controlling the puck on zone exits.”
-Improvements: “could benefit a lot from using his shot more”...”skating stride could use some more explosiveness off the hop.”
-Overall Outlook: “To sum things up, Sasha Pastujov looks like a force to be reckoned with when it comes to 2021 NHL Draft offensive prospects. It wouldn’t shock me to see a team take a shot at him as high as ~12th overall, but I believe his window to be selected lies within the 16-24th overall pick range.”
As you can see, Smaht is way higher on Sasha than most of the others who have ranked him, and definitely higher on him than Ben Kerr. He expects him to go well before the Devils pick at 29th, while most everyone else seems to think he will be there when NJ picks for the second time in the first round.
A Little Video
Ironically, despite Sasha being one of those players who can generate highlight-reel goals on any given night, there are not any flashy highlight packages on YouTube for me to link here. Here is a shift-by-shift against Chicago Steel from February:
And here is a collection of all of his goals and assists from this season:
In my opinion, the top half of the first round is where teams should be looking not for hit or miss prospects, but guys they think have high floors who will be legit NHL players one day. You really don’t want to miss on a pick from a position where you weren’t in the playoffs the season before. But at the end of the first round, where the Devils pick at #29, or even the second round? Go for broke, why not? Very few, if any, of the players taken at this point are surefire NHLers one day. They all have risk, a decent risk, of never panning out. More of them than not will never become NHL regulars. So at that point, why not go for it all?
To put that into perspective here, Pastujov is someone that, at the top end, is projected to be a legit top-six winger. If he hits that lofty plateau, how amazing would it be to get one of those guys at the end of the first? Or even the second? It does happen, but it’s very rare, and when it does, it could change the fortunes of a franchise for a decade. Now, instead of overpaying for someone in free agency, or putting up with mediocre talent, you have another homegrown, excellent talent that you got at a point in the draft where most others are not getting the same value.
In my opinion, Sasha Pastujov could be that guy. He has the traits that make me think he could succeed. He has great high hockey IQ, he has excellent vision, and he has a high motor in the offensive zone. He may look to cherry-pick a little too much and leave the defense high and dry, but when he does buckle down and play defense, he isn’t bad at it, which means that he can be coached to be a better defender and full 200-foot player. Also, he has been seriously improving. He went from someone two years ago who was a great playmaker but not really a goal scorer into someone who can do both, and do both well. He might still overuse the pass when he could shoot, but he only just added that to his arsenal; give him time, and he will develop the instinct to shoot more too.
That being said, I see what the rankings are for him, and the majority of analysts would probably say that #29 overall is a little bit of a reach. Not a major reach, but perhaps 10-20 picks too early. However, how many of the next 10-20 guys taken after the Devils pick at 29 will actually become consistent NHLers one day? 3-5 at the most? If there is ever the time to reach for the guy you think will make it, it is at the end of the first round. And if Tom Fitzgerald thinks that Sasha is that guy, then go for it. He would be the flashy pick, that’s for sure. I’d be excited to see what he does in the black and red.
That’s my take, however. What do you think about the American winger Sasha Pastujov? Do you like his upside, or does his downside scare you? Do you think he is a potential first-rounder, or more of a second-rounder? Why? Would you be happy if Fitzgerald went for him at #29 overall, or is there someone else at that position you think will be around who you’d prefer? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading another prospect profile here at AATJ!