Spending hours blasting pucks at a net at the local outdoor roller rink under a blazing Florida summer sun is paying big dividends for Sasha Pastujov.
“I’ll let the shot speak for itself,” says Pastujov, 18, whose 13 goals so far this season are tops in the entire CHL as of Thursday.
“It’s something I’ve always been very adamant about working on. Working on my release, just shooting the puck as hard as I can and as accurate as I can.”
Pastujov hails from Bradenton, Fla., where he followed in the footsteps of older brothers Mike and Nick in playing hockey before moving on to the USNTDP in Michigan in Grade 6.
“It’s not easy in Florida in the summer, on the street every day shooting pucks. But it’s something that’s got to get done,” he said.
“In Florida there’s a bunch of roller rinks outside and public roller rinks to shoot on. Get out there before the sun gets too hot. Work on different releases, different shots, shoot from everywhere.”
Even those familiar with Pastujov’s pedigree and hype prior to his arrival in Guelph have to be a little surprised with just how quickly he has ascended to elite status.
His 25 points are also tops in the country.
Is he surprised?
“Yes and no. You know the work you put in in the summer and that earned confidence you have coming out of camp in Anaheim, but you never know when you’re changing staff, changing leagues and changing environments,” he said.
“I felt prepared in how I handled myself this summer and this pre-season in Anaheim. But at the same time there was the uncertainty of the league and the adjustment to the style of play here.”
A hot start doesn’t mean he still isn’t striving for more.
Always known for his great shot and stickhandling, Pastujov knows he still needs to work on his skating.
“A thing I really need to work on is speed and I’ve been working on it every day in practice,” he said of what he needs to work on..
“Definitely skating, my stride, my first couple of steps, to beat D wide with speed and not just with my hands and skills. Beat them with my feet.
“I’m always working on skating and getting faster and more explosive.”
Sasha’s mom Janis and dad George met while working largely on the business and operations side of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
When they retired from the circus, they settled in Florida. George had played hockey in his native Russia (Sasha speaks fluent Russian) and eventually signed up all three of his sons with the Gulf Coast Flames travel program.
Oldest brother Nick, 23, is in his second season with Kansas City of the ECHL and middle brother Mike, 22, is in his final season at the University of Michigan.
A top-10 talent for the 2019 OHL draft, Pastujov was still there when they selected him in the 14th round due to the fact it seemed almost certain he was going to follow in the footsteps of Nick and Michael and play NCAA hockey, where he had committed to Notre Dame.
Plans changed after Sasha was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the third round last summer.
While Pastujov’s 13 goals are certainly impressive on their own, making them even more so is the fact that only three of them have come on the power play. By comparison, the player he is tied for the goal scoring lead with, Sault Ste. Marie’s Tye Kartye, has scored 10 of his 13 on the power play.
“It’s something else that I wanted to get a little more out of myself this year. You hear all the draft reports and all the nonsense during your draft year where people would say I can’t score five-on-five. I wanted to improve on that.
“Five-on-five play has definitely been a focus for me.”
Anaheim keeps in contact.
“I’ve had some contact with player development staff. Francois Beauchemin (player personnel with Anaheim) has been at a couple of games this year and given me good feedback. Other guys in the organization text me and talk about what’s been going on.”
Pastujov wasn’t drafted out of the OHL, he was drafted while playing for the USNTDP squad, so would be eligible to play in the American Hockey League next season, but it’s not something he really thinks about at this stage.
“One day at a time. I’m just worried about playing Erie on Friday.”