Pavel Buchnevich has made a strong start to his domestic season in Russia, of that there is no doubt.
Buchnevich, a 2013 third-round pick alongside Anthony Duclair and Adam Tambellini by the Rangers, has six goals and six assists in 15 games for an improved Severstal club. He was named KHL forward of the week after posting three multi-point starts in succession between September 16-20, all wins.
The 19-year old has played with a real sense of leadership so far this season, stepping up at key times. On September 18, Buchnevich drew a late holding penalty behind the opposition net as his team chased down a 3-2 deficit against Dinamo Minsk. Severstal scored on the powerplay, Buchnevich supplying a patient feed to defenseman Alexander Urbom, before taking a six-round shootout and the points.
His determination and work rate has been exceptional. Opposing defenseman have struggled to separate Buchnevich from the puck and his use of it, though at times a bit frustrating, is improving too.
There have been a couple of instances this year where I feel he has turned down a good shooting opportunity, but Buchnevich rarely gets it wrong when it comes to hitting a team-mate's stick. His strength on the puck has certainly helped him here, as he is able to buy himself more time while fending off a defensive challenge.
Buchnevich has formed a successful partnership with center Gennadi Stolyarov, the pair inseparable during the winger's three-game, six-point streak that saw Stolyarov contribute to four of six goals. That said, Buchnevich is not the product of someone else's good play. When something positive happens for his line, he tends to be the catalyst.
Buchnevich's skating stride is not too dissimilar to that of Evgeni Malkin, burning ground with deceptive ease. He's very strong on his edges and positionally solid for the most part. NHL defenseman will of course make life far harder for him in North America, but that's something he'll be able to withstand in time given a little more muscle and another year of physical development.
Buchnevich snapped a recent six-game skid with a three-point night against Metallurg Novokuznetsk on Monday, arguably his best performance of a young season. A highlight-reel individual goal (think Forsberg) midway through the third period capped a strong performance by Buchnevich, who also tallied a pair of helpers on Stolyarov and Yury Trubachyov‘s earlier strikes.
Is it a concern that Buchnevich has posted 11 of 12 points in just five games? No, not really. At 19, Buchnevich is logging over 16 minutes of ice-time consistently as a top-line forward in the KHL. Points are great, but the fact he's always engaged and working hard for the team is just as important. He isn't a passenger when he doesn't score.
Buchnevich, alongside Rangers' goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin, will be a key player for Russia at the World Junior Championships in December and January. He'll be expected to take that next step and lead his country offensively. Given his play so far this season, I'm confident he'll be just fine.