Pastujov stepping up for U.S.
by Lucas Aykroyd|01 MAY 2021
Sasha Pastujov, who leads the U.S. with five points at the 2021 U18 Worlds, scored the tying goal in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Czech Republic.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Sasha Pastujov’s favourite NHL team is the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. So far at the 2021 U18 Worlds in Texas, the creative 17-year-old U.S. winger is delivering a championship-calibre performance himself.

Pastujov, who leads his team with three goals and two assists and sits fifth overall in tournament scoring, is the only American player to have recorded points in every game in Frisco. That’s on brand for the 183-cm, 79-kg native of Bradenton, Florida. Pastujov paced the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) with 54 points in 32 games this season and is committed to the University of Notre Dame for next season.

“He’s a huge part of this team,” said defenceman Lane Hutson, who set up Pastujov for the third-period equalizer in Thursday’s hard-fought 2-1 shootout win over the Czechs. “He always seems to find the right spots and he scores big-time goals for us. That’s what he does.”

Scouts have Pastujov pegged as a potential late first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. His draft standing certainly hasn’t been hurt by the way U.S. head coach Dan Muse deploys him alongside sniper Dylan Duke. Their production has helped to keep the U.S. in contention in a tough Group B that also sees Russia and Finland vying for top spot.

“We’ve been playing together for a while and we trust each other,” Pastujov said of his chemistry with Duke. “And we’ve built that trust over the years.”

Pastujov, who previously suited up for Compuware youth teams in Plymouth, Michigan with many of his current teammates, is continuing a family tradition of playing left wing with the NTDP.

His older brother Nick, now 23, captured a bronze medal at the 2016 U18 Worlds in North Dakota before getting drafted in the seventh round (193rd overall) by the New York Islanders. Nick, after four years at the University of Michigan, turned pro with the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks this season.

His other brother Michael, now 21, upped the ante with a gold medal at the 2017 U18 Worlds, the last time the Americans won this tournament. Michael’s seven points in Slovakia tied future Ottawa Senators stars Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris for third in U.S. scoring. This season, Michael wore an “A” with the University of Michigan as a senior.

The hockey-playing gene wasn’t something Sasha and his siblings directly inherited from their parents. Back in the 1990s, Gueorgui Pastujov – a native of Tula, Russia – was a translator for Russian performers with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. His wife Janis, who is from New Jersey, was the captain of the circus dance team.

Granted, there is a great tradition of showmanship in Russian hockey, from Valeri Kharlamov to Pavel Bure to Alexander Ovechkin, but this certainly isn’t your traditional hockey background. Nonetheless, as the New York Times reported in 2015, the Pastujov parents found ways to make it work when their sons moved to Michigan to pursue the nomadic (and sometimes circus-like) hockey lifestyle.

And now, with Saturday’s preliminary-round finale against Finland looming, it’s showtime for Sasha Pastujov. He was named MVP at the BioSteel All-American Game at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth on 7 April with two goals and an assist in a 7-1 romp over a USHL select squad. Can he pull another rabbit out of the hat?

“[Pastujov] wants the puck in key situations,” said Muse. “He’s shown that all year. He’s a guy who does a good job of making himself available in those moments when you need to get that big shot or that big play. He’s got a great shot and great playmaking ability.”

U18 Worlds hockey is anything but predictable, but it’s a safe bet that Pastujov will come to play with the biggest games of the year on the line.