(Photo Credit: Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

By: Tom Calautti | Follow me on Twitter @TCalauttis and Linktree

We all knew this time would come; we just didn’t know when. It finally came after the team’s devastating loss to the Florida Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Frontline staples Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired this summer, ending an over-a-decade-long run as pillars of the Boston Bruins. In order to stay competitive in 2023-24, the Black and Gold would need someone to step up and fill the void left by the two legends, and David Pastrnak was ready for the challenge.

For years, the winger from the Czech Republic has been an elite goal scorer, but to keep this team afloat, Pastrnak needed to shoulder even more of the load on offense. That meant changing his game and becoming more of a facilitator. “I mean, I think that’s the biggest thing,” said head coach Jim Montgomery of Pastrnak’s game this season. “He’s become more of a playmaker, not just a shooter.” Pastrnak’s passing has always taken a backseat to his shooting talent, but this season, he’s made it clear to the entire league that he can make plays just as well as he can finish them.

“My passing ability was always there, it’s just that I was working on the shot more than passing ability to be honest,” said Pastrnak when asked about his improved passing and playmaking abilities. “So when I see a play I try to make it. Sometimes, obviously, it’s better to keep it safe. So it wasn’t always my focus but I love to set up a goal.”

But just how good has David Pastrnak been when it comes to setting up his teammates? If you look at the rest of the NHL, he’s been one of the league’s best at being the primary offense producer. Pastrnak is tied for 12th in the league with 24 assists, but when you look at the types of assists he’s tallying, you see how much his setup game has grown. According to IcyData, Pastrnak ranks fourth in the NHL with 15 primary assists and fifth in the league with nine even-strength primary assists.

His linemates are direct beneficiaries of his newfound commitment to facilitating, and they know just how lucky they are. “You know, he’s gotten better,” said centerman Pavel Zacha when asked about Pastrnak’s playmaking ability. “I was lucky enough to play with him last year when he got 60 goals. He just sees the game really well and I’m lucky to play with him on a line and learn from him.”

But his five-on-five play isn’t the only evidence of his improvement in the passing game; it’s his ability to set up goals on the power play that has truly elevated his game. In four of the last five seasons, Pastrnak has registered more goals than assists on the powerplay, a product of the Bruins running their offense through him with the man advantage, looking to set up his lethal one-timer as its primary mode of attack.

But since Pastrnak’s ascension to NHL stardom, teams have keyed in on his shot and committed to taking the one-timer away. That hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most productive powerplay forwards in the league. Pastrnak is tied for fourth in the league in powerplay points with 19, but 13 of those points have come via the assists. He is also tied for 3rd in the league with six primary assists on the powerplay.

Pastrnak has found new ways to attack teams on the powerplay, utilizing his one-timer as a decoy to pull defenders out of position and exploit the ensuing weakness. Time and time again, fans have seen him sacrifice a heavy shot for a quick, slick wrist shot that generates a rebound or a pass to an open skater for a better opportunity. His patience, poise, and ability to think the game steps ahead of his opponents prove that he’s grown into more than just a scorer.

The final step in Pastrnak’s metamorphosis is generating scoring chances for his teammates and making plays in the most significant moments. In my research for this piece, the stat I found most intriguing was this: David Pastrnak is tied for second in the NHL with six game-winning assists. Couple that with his two game-winning goals this year, and he currently sits tied for 8th in the NHL with eight game-winning points. When the lights are brightest and the moments are the most tense, Boston’s best player is finding ways to set up his teammates and chalk up wins for the Bruins.

Last year, we saw the former Rocket Richard winner notch 61 goals and firmly insert himself into the conversation as one of the best players in the NHL. Now that he’s improved his passing and playmaking abilities, there’s no longer any doubt: David Pastrnak is one of the best players in the NHL, and no matter what the future holds for the Bruins organization, this team will always be competitive as long as he’s playing like this.