Each week, stickhandling specialist Pavel Barber and Sonny Sachdeva will go Inside the Highlight Reel to break down one of the silkiest moves from the NHL’s best, dissecting it to explain why it’s so dangerous and demonstrating how to master it yourself.
The book has officially closed on the 2019-20 regular season, and with that conclusion came the first bit of clarity on how we’ll remember this strange campaign.
With the regular season deemed over as of the date of the season’s pause, a few of the league’s marquee awards have been handed out — among them, the Rocket Richard Trophy, shared between Alex Ovechkin, arguably the best pure goal-scorer we’ve ever seen, and David Pastrnak, whose dynamic game is a microcosm of what NHL offence looks like today.
Nos. 88 and 8 took different paths to get to that 48-goal title — the latter through power, force and historic consistency; the former through all-world finesse and a skill-set as varied as it is unpredictable.
On this week’s edition of Inside the Highlight Reel, the spotlight falls on a Pastrnak and that deep well of on-ice creativity.
Throughout the hockey world’s hiatus, we’ve called on stickhandling specialist Pavel Barber to share his on-ice expertise for young players using this downtime to fine-tune their skill-sets. The YouTube phenom-turned-skills coach has made his name dissecting the finer points of offensive wizardry. While amassing half a million followers online, the Toronto native has trained NHLers like Jonathan Toews and Jake Virtanen, and recently linked up with Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks to coach some local Vancouverites.
Through the first four weeks of our series with Barber, we’ve broken down Mitch Marner’s backhand toe drag, Sidney Crosby’s one-handed, backhand magic, Connor McDavid’s use of the art of deception and Elias Pettersson’s mastery of ‘The Forsberg.’
Next up: a Pastrnak tally that illustrates precisely why he’s one of the most dynamic talents in the game.
(Watch Barber’s tutorial on how to master the move via the video embedded at the bottom of this story).
Pastrnak’s variant of the usual between-the-legs dangle we see more often in the big leagues is undeniably effective, allowing him to maintain his pace while navigating through suffocating traffic to put himself in front of the net with the puck on his stick.
What differentiates it from what we usually see is the Bruins winger’s body positioning as he sets up the move, explains Barber.
“This between-the-legs move is very unorthodox, as most of the time players lead with the near foot when going between the legs, but here Pastrnak leads with the outside foot,” Barber says.
Compare it to the Marner between-the-legs backhand toe drag we covered in Week 1, for example, and that difference is clear — Marner leads with his inside foot, pulling the puck essentially from behind his back to out in front of him. Pastrnak opts for the rare opposite approach, moving the puck more east-west than north-south.
Much of what makes that more common iteration work still applies here though, says Barber — the move’s effectiveness is, once again, tied to first selling the defender on a shot-fake.
“The same principles apply in terms of faking the shot first, so Pastrnak loads up the puck and gets the defender down to block the shot,” Barber explains, adding that there’s a key bit of stickwork that then enables the main sequence of the move. “His backhand-to-forehand stickhandle loads it at the toe so that he can immediately tuck it between the legs to step around the defender.”
A view of the whole sequence again in real-time illustrates just how effective that shot-fake is. Pastrnak catches the puck out of mid-air, navigates into traffic until he’s surrounded by white jerseys, and then, seeming to be on the cusp of getting a quick shot off before the defence descends, he instead freezes Edmonton’s Matt Benning and floats past him to the cage.
The above clips also make clear the most valuable aspect of Pastrnak’s version of the between-the-legs dangle.
“What I love so much about the outside leg leading is that it allows you to maintain your speed well throughout the move,” Barber says, “which Pastrnak demonstrates on this play.”
The speed of the entire sequence paints as complete a picture as one should need of why No. 88 has moved himself into the upper echelons of the league’s elite: game-breaking instincts, confidence and technical ability combining to sink the opposition in dominant fashion.
In terms of the mechanics of the move that allows him to do so, it comes down to ensuring you leave yourself enough space to operate as you begin the sequence, says Barber.
“Load the puck wide off the body to allow your hands to pull across the body on the move, to ensure that you’re able to fake the shot well, and pull that puck as far as you’d like,” Barber explains. “High-skill play from a highly creative player.”
For a more detailed breakdown on how to master Pastrnak’s between-the-legs variant, we asked Barber to demonstrate the sequence, explain how to ensure you can pull it off with maximum effectiveness, and offer up one drill that’ll help build the skills to do it.