In his third season with the Michigan hockey team, junior forward Nick Pastujov has started piecing together the elements of his game.
The Florida-native has put forth career-high numbers in goals and points – notching 10 and 20, respectively, with four games still remaining in the regular season. He began the year with a three-game goal streak and surpassed his previous career high of four goals after just 10 games.
Pastujov has quietly put together his most complete season to date. So quietly that Michigan coach Mel Pearson was unaware of his current goal-scoring drought – one that dates back to the championship game of the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament.
“I hadn’t realized that he hasn’t scored because his play hasn’t diminished,” Pearson said. “He’s continued to play well, and you can play well and not necessarily score goals.”
After recording just one and four goals, respectively, in his first two seasons with the Wolverines, his 10 goals through 30 games may have come as a surprise to some. But for Pastujov, it is a part of his game that he felt was previously there.
“Well before I came to Michigan I kind of was producing a lot with Team USA,” Pastujov said. “I think through two shoulder surgeries and becoming a freshman that kind of knocked my confidence back and that’s when kind of the production stopped. But then kind of getting back to how I felt like before, like feeling confident again, I think in those first two years I really got a chance to round out my defensive game.”
His goal drought may have gone unnoticed because of the other things Pastujov does on the ice. Whether it's clogging up the area in front of the net or showing off the defensive skills he developed over his first two seasons, they are all pieces of his game that are coming together.
But that goal production could easily be much higher, too.
In the first period against Penn State on Jan. 26, Pastujov had three shot attempts strike iron and one later in the game for good measure. Add in a couple unfortunate bounces in Minneapolis against the Golden Gophers on plays that prevented Pastujov from scoring –– including a point-blank open net miss in the 4-3 loss and a game in which he set his season-high with seven shots –– and you’d be looking at Michigan’s leader in goals.
It is a hypothetical scenario but all just to say that the scoring opportunities are still coming for Pastujov. Through the first half of the season, the goals followed. But now, despite the number in the goal scoring column staying stagnant, his play and the play of those around him has not.
“He’s making players around him better,” Pearson said. “And that’s the thing that he’s done even though he’s not scoring. He’s making good plays for the guys who are scoring, whether it’s (Jack) Becker or (Will) Lockwood or whoever he may be with.”
Lockwood, Pastujov and Becker have been on a line together since the series at Columbus on Jan. 11.
Since then, Lockwood has recorded eight goals in those last nine games –– perhaps a testament to the elevated play of Pastujov. And though the goals are not coming for Becker, aside from the pair he had against Michigan State on Feb. 8, he is fourth on the team with 84 shots behind Lockwood, junior Jake Slaker and Pastujov, meaning that the opportunities are coming for the linemates.
For Pastujov, though, even now that the goals are finally coming in his third season, it is about more than finding the back of the net.