Late last month, it was announced that recent Michigan graduate Nick Pastujov signed with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League (AHL).
Pastujov was drafted in 2016 by the New York Islanders in the seventh round — 193rd overall. He’s now one of the six players from the class of 2020 who have signed professional contracts.
As a forward for the Wolverines, Pastujov took 281 shots and racked up 54 points over the course of 124 total games. He got consistent ice time across his collegiate career, playing in almost every contest in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
Pastujov was an important part of Michigan’s offense. He finished last year’s abbreviated season with 18 points and nine goals, tied for second most goals on the team with now fellow-AHL forward Will Lockwood and sophomore forward Johnny Beecher. He won 57.4 percent of faceoffs last season, the fourth highest in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines will especially miss his impact on the power play as Pastujov was tied for fifth in the league and led the Wolverines with six power play goals in 2019-20.
After a slow start to the season, Michigan — and Pastujov specifically — was picking up speed when the COVID-19 pandemic cut it short after the first round of the Big Ten tournament. When students started leaving campus, Pastujov stayed with some of his roommates to finish out his senior spring in Ann Arbor.
“During the end of the year and the start of quarantine, it was definitely hard to turn the page because it’s just such a weird transition into the real world,” Pastujov said.
Once businesses started opening up over the summer, Pastujov got a job at a housing development company and created his own routines.
He has tried to put his own “spin” on training, combining different styles and focuses he’s seen throughout the years.
Even though his sights are set on Bridgeport, Pastujov — like most 2020 graduates — is in a time of transition. He’s currently living with his mom, trying to balance a job with training and a COVID-style social life while mentally preparing for a move to Connecticut in a few months.
But even that target is moving. In July, the AHL announced that the start of the season would be pushed back to Dec. 4. Last week, it was pushed again until Feb. 5.
“At first, I was definitely a little bit anxious (about the delayed season), but eventually things are going to come back,” Pastujov said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to just keep in the back of my mind. I’m just using it as an opportunity to focus on myself — really dive into my game and start closing the gaps on where I want to be.”
Pastujov is hoping to train in Florida for a week with his dad and might head to Connecticut to train with former Wolverine Luke Martin at junior goaltender Strauss Mann’s house before heading to Bridgeport for training camp in January. But, for the most part, he’s sticking with his own routine for the next couple of months. Specifically, he’s trying to improve his skating and endurance to “get (his) game where he wants it to be.”
He averaged 0.5 points per game last season. Compared to the Sound Tigers’ 2019-20 roster, Pastujov would have fallen solidly in the top 10.
Bridgeport was last in its division at 4-5-0-1 last season. Pastujov sees this as a cool place to start.
“I’d like to have as big an impact as I can,” Pastujov said. “I’m really trying to round out all aspects of my game so that no matter what role I need to play at the next level I can do it.”
He believes the Wolverines prepared him well for professional hockey. College hockey made him more conscious of his defensive role as a center. He also got experience on lots of different lines and learned how much he had to work to be successful.
He’s still in touch with Michigan’s team staff and is planning meetings with strength coaches, nutritionists and career advisors within the program.
With his younger brother, senior forward Mike Pastujov, still on the Wolverines’ roster, Nick is hoping to make it back to Ann Arbor at least a couple times throughout the season.
“I mean, if they start playing before New Year’s, I’m definitely going to try to make all (of the games) hopefully if they have fans,” Pastujov said. “If not, I’ll have to get a job at the rink and mop floors while they’re playing.”