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2021 Draft Profile: Sasha Pastujov

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Ten years ago, Pastujov would have been one of the draft’s most exciting prospects. In today’s game, Pastujov’s pace could be a barrier to NHL success.

2018 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The fifth and final draft profile is here, and this time, we’ll be discussing National Team Development Program (NTDP) forward Sasha Pastujov. I’ll break down his stats, give a scouting repor, and discuss whether or not Pastujov would be a fit for the Hurricanes in this draft profile.

As a side note, I conducted a Twitter poll last week asking which player Canes fans liked the most out of the four players covered thus far. I have to say that I’m surprised by the results.

To be fair, I would be fine if the Hurricanes selected any of these four players. All four have reasonable NHL upside, with Olausson and L’Heureux likely having the biggest ceilings. Let’s see where Pastujov fits in this group, shall we?

Paper Stats

Pastujov is a polarizing prospect in this draft class due to a variety of reasons that we’ll touch on in the scouting report. His biggest supporters, Draft Prospects Hockey, have Pastujov ranked 22nd, while EliteProspects puts him at 56th on their board. Pastujov’s stats were impressive this season, to say the least.

He scored a total of 40 goals across all of his games and finished with a season total of 91 points. In fact, Pastujov led the U18 team in scoring with 65 points in 41 games, 16 more points than the next highest scorer. Pastujov’s five goals and eight points in five games at the U18s raised his draft stock in some cases, making him a bubble player for the first round in a few rankings. Pastujov seems to have a feel for the offensive side of the game and can pass and score with ease according to his paper stats. His 6-foot, 183-pound frame is good for a player his age and will help him adjust to the collegiate level. To find out why scouts are so divided on Pastujov, we’ll have to dive into the scouting report.

Scouting Report

Taken from NTDP games as well as the U18 tournament

After watching some of Pastujov’s games, I can see why scouts are so divided on Pastujov. Similar to Zachary L’Heureux, there are some major issues with Pastujov’s game that can put a damper on what there is to like about how he plays. Let’s break down the positive aspects of his game first.

Pastujov has great hockey sense and is able to adapt to a situation in the offensive zone. If his teammate changes his angle, Pastujov can adjust and skate to an open area in order to try and receive a pass or support his teammate. Pastujov is also able to react to a shot or deflection and immediately know where the puck is going so that he can try to knock the rebound in. His shot is impressive, too. It’s quick and there’s a fair amount of power behind it, but I wouldn’t call Pastujov a sniper. Sure, he can pick corners every now and then, but I would call Pastujov a finisher more than a sniper.

You may be asking what the distinction is between the two, so allow for me to explain using Hurricanes players as examples. Andrei Svechnikov has a quick and accurate shot, making him more of a sniper due to the fact that he can find the smallest amount of open space and beat a goalie with an elite shot. Now take Vincent Trocheck as your other example. Sure, Trocheck is known to do the same thing as we saw in the Nashville series, but more often than not, Trocheck finds ways to score around the net, whether it’s a deflection, off of a rebound, or something else. This is essentially how Pastujov operates in the offensive zone. He has a great shot but doesn’t rely on it as the only way to score. His shots find a way to the back of the net in a variety of different ways, making him a multi-faceted goal scorer. Pastujov is also a good playmaker that has the ability to thread passes through multiple defenders.

I thought that Pastujov was strong on the puck and that he thrived along the boards. His physicality stood out on a few occasions, and while he may not have the build or the style of a power forward, there’s an edge to his game. He is a gifted stick handler, as well. While I am yet to see Pastujov weave through defenders with a few dekes, he is able to gain some separation from a defender by deking. There are times when that foot or two of space is all he needs to make a defender pay for making a mistake, too. Pastujov needs to rely on his strength on the puck in order to beat defenders, however, because he can’t beat them with his speed.

That brings us to the negative side of Pastujov’s game. There’s one glaring weakness to Pastujov’s game that sticks out like a sore thumb, and that’s his skating. He’s not nearly a good enough skater to compete at the NHL level. He has been able to rely on his hockey sense and offensive toolkit at the junior level, but he’ll need to transform his game in a major way if he wants to see any sort of success at the professional level. His pace, stride, acceleration and top speed are all below average, in my opinion. He’s not that big of a guy, either, so his skating is a legitimate cause for concern.

There were countless times where I noticed Pastujov getting beat on both sides of the puck due to his lack of foot speed. I even noticed that his inability to keep up with his teammates killed a few rushes. There were times when a teammate would skate into the offensive zone and have to wait a second or two for Pastujov to catch up, which was enough time for the defense to adjust and take the puck away. It’s frustrating to see a player’s lack of foot speed kill a rush, because he plays on a line with some talented prospects.

He saw power play-time with Chaz Lucius and Luke Hughes, both projected to be top-15 picks in this year’s draft. Jack Hughes, a Northeastern commit and another 2021 draft prospect was on his line as well, so seeing some rushes die because of Pastujov’s skating was discouraging. I also got the sense that Pastujov wasn’t the best defensively. He got caught napping a few times and was out of position on a handful of chances in the games that I watched. Awareness can be taught, however, and Pastujov is a smart enough player to be able to make changes to his defensive game.

It’s clear that Pastujov’s skating hampers a lot of his effectiveness, so as a result, he has to compensate. Since he is strong on the puck and a good stickhandler, his skating doesn’t stand out to be as poor as it is on occasion. Pastujov is able to muscle his way through defenders on occasion, even if it does look like he is skating through cement while he does it. I’d rate the offensive side of his game a B+. There’s a lot that he does well, and while he doesn’t have an elite offensive ceiling due to his skating, there’s a lot to like about his offensive game.

Summary

Pastujov would thrive as an NHL prospect in the early 2000’s and 2010’s. His skating wouldn’t stand out as much and he’d be a consistent 60-point player at the NHL level given his offensive skills. In today’s NHL, however, there are legitimate concerns that he may not even make it to the NHL. This just goes to show how different the game is now. Pace is the name of the game, and NHL players are getting much, much quicker. If Pastujov is unable to keep up, then he won’t be able to stay in the NHL for long. Pastujov will have to get no less than two or three steps quicker in order for me to feel confident in his odds for NHL success. After a few years at Notre Dame, it’s possible that he gets quick enough to turn pro and see some AHL time in order to get another half step faster. This is a best-case scenario, though.

If Pastujov hits his ceiling, I believe he could be a 25-goal, 60-point player at the NHL level. There’s a lot to like about how Pastujov seeks out offense as well as his hockey sense. He’s a smart player that can adapt to situations, and if his skating improves, he’ll be an even greater threat offensively. That potential alone, as well as his performance at the U18 tournament, are why some scouts have him ranked in the first round. As for me, I’m putting Pastujov as a top-40 prospect in this draft, somewhere between 32-40.

I don’t see Pastujov as a first round prospect due to his skating, but some team will be happy with picking him in the early second round. I don’t believe there is a fit for the Hurricanes, either. He has the hockey sense and skill that the Hurricanes look for in a prospect, but he’s lacking in the skating department. In recent years, the Hurricanes have drafted a vast majority of players that are good skaters with high amounts of skill or hockey sense. I can’t see them breaking that trend with their first round pick in 2021.

If I were to rank each prospect that I’ve profiled in this series based on how happy I’d be if the Hurricanes selected them, this is how I would rank them:

  1. Oskar Olausson
  2. Zachary L’Heureux
  3. Matthew Coronato
  4. Sebastian Cossa
  5. Sasha Pastujov

It was a tough list to hash out because I like four out of the five prospects as first round options for the Hurricanes. Olausson seems like he would be a great fit for the team, however, which is why I put him first. Stay tuned for more draft content leading up to draft day, including a Canes Country mock draft, a brief look at more options for the Hurricanes and more.