Iowa Heartlanders forward Michael Pastujov emerges as club’s points leader

Through his first four professional games, Pastujov recorded three goals and six assists.


Jerod Ringwald

A puck drops during a hockey match between Iowa and Wheeling at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

Forward Michael Pastujov started the 2022-23 season with the club the Iowa Heartlanders faced in their season-opener: the Idaho Steelheads.

Fast forward to over three weeks later, and Pastujov’s nine points for the Heartlanders lead the franchise. Since he was traded to Iowa for future considerations on Nov. 2, the rookie has notched at least two points in each of his first four contests with the Heartlanders — adding up to three goals and six assists.

“He’s fit in right away,” Iowa defenseman Brendan Less said. “We couldn’t be happier to have him.”

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In Iowa’s contest versus the Kansas City Mavericks on Friday, Pastujov recorded his first professional two-goal game as he found the back of the net twice in a 35-second span on power plays.

Pastujov didn’t compete with Idaho before he was dealt, but the winger racked up a solid amateur career. Though Pastujov grew up in Bradenton, Florida, his father, George Pastujov, was raised in Russia before immigrating to the U.S. when he was about 19.

“They built a hockey rink about four miles away from my house in Florida when we were two or three,” Pastujov said. “And my dad said, ‘You’re going to play hockey,’ and the rest is history.”

The left-handed shooter won the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Championships with the U.S. as he notched three goals and four assists in seven tournament games. Pastujov was with the U.S. National Team Development Program in the U.S. Hockey League from 2015-17.

The 6-foot skater dressed in the Maize and Blue at the University of Michigan from 2017-22. As a Wolverine, the international studies major recorded 35 goals and 72 points over 172 contests and appeared in the 2018 and 2022 NCAA Frozen Four. He served as an alternate captain during his last two years in Ann Arbor.

While with Michigan, Pastujov suited up with Buffalo Sabers defenseman Owen Power, who was selected No. 1 in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. The next pick in that draft, Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers, also competed alongside Pastujov at Michigan.

With the high-level talent surrounding Pastujov at Ann Arbor’s Yost Ice Arena, the Floridian realized he need to expand his game.

“I could play in the defensive zone,” Pastujov said. “It was something I really practiced when I was playing at college, playing with a bunch of high-level players, high-draft-pick players. You’re not going to be able to always be the first-line guy.”

With that, Pastujov mentioned a quality that’s common for skilled defensemen: moving the puck from his team’s zone into its attacking zone.

“He’s just a really smart player,” Heartlanders head coach Derek Damon said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he can skate, he can think the game at a high level. Obviously, when you play at the University of Michigan, you’re a good player. He’s just out there playing and playing his game, and that’s what he needs to do.”

Damon said it’s important for the Heartlanders to add players from the best college programs as they build their culture.

“He has good offensive instincts,” Less said. “Sometimes, there’s just things you can’t really teach, and he definitely has that.”