Last night was a celebration for a lot of reasons. It was a celebration of hockey in general, and specifically of the rising talent who will soon be the new faces of the NHL. It was a celebration of the resurgence of the Russia-Canada rivalry. For Gordie Clark's scouting staff, it was a celebration of the job they have done the last couple of years. Despite picking no higher than 59th overall in the previous two drafts, three Rangers' draftees would take part as vital members of the two final teams in the 2015 World Junior Championship. It's an unbelievable accomplishment that speaks measures about the staff Gordie Clark compiles and directs.
I'll insert here that we've made improvements to how we include GIFs in our articles. A lot of you mentioned the number of gifs creating issues with loading the page. We've made it so GIFs are "hover-to-animate" instead of playing automatically. Simply put your mouse over a GIF to watch it. Now only one plays at a time. That should reduce the bandwidth issues.
But onto the game. Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich were both sent out for the opening faceoff, and it didn't take very long for one of them to get on the scoresheet. In fact, only 23 seconds were necessary.
That was the very first shot of the game, and things would not get better for Igor Shesterkin. Canada's second goal would come from Nick Paul only a few minutes later.
After two goals on both shots Shesterkin faced, he was pulled from the game by Russia and replaced with Ilya Sorokin. Neither goal was his fault, really, but it's hard to blame Russia for making that decision. It's disappointing and anticlimactic for Shesterkin, though. From a Rangers perspective, the game was all about Duclair in the first period. Here's a turnover he helped create to go on a two-on-one. Unfortunately, Max Domi could not convert Duclair's pass.
The first period ended 2-1 in favor of Canada, making it a close enough game despite the early outburst. However, things got ugly very quickly in the second period, and Canada exploded for a 5-1 lead. The game looked over for all intents and purposes. Meanwhile, Pavel Buchnevich, while not actively making poor decisions by any means, was doing little to impact the game. That changed towards the end of the second period. On a power play, Buchnevich made a nice rush up the ice to gain possession in Canada's zone. That possession eventually turned into a shot from him that would generate a rebound in front. Ivan Barbashev put it home, and Buchnevich was credited with an assist.
Minutes later, Buchnevich drew a penalty. Russia would convert on the power play to make it a 5-3 game.
Russia would quickly score after that to make it three goals in fewer than four minutes. The 5-1 blowout had very quickly turned into a nervous 5-4 game. Buchnevich played a huge role in that. The second period would close with Buchnevich once again drawing a penalty. This time, he would do so by driving towards the net with the puck and forcing Sam Reinhart, probably the best teenage defensive center in the world right now, into hooking him.
Unfortunately for Russia, they could not convert on the power play in the opening minutes of the third period, and the game tightened up after that. Duclair would get this one great chance.
And Buchnevich would have one last attempt in the dying seconds of the game.
It was a lot closer than they would have liked it to have been, but ultimately Canada held on to win the game 5-4. It was a spectacular game from a neutral standpoint, and it certainly was full of nice highlights from a Rangers' perspective.
Duclair finished the tournament with four goals and four assists in seven games. He, along with Max Domi and Sam Reinhart, completed what was quite easily the best line in the entire tournament. He'll return to the Quebec Remparts elated to win Gold, obviously, but also has to be happy with his individual play. The entire world watched first-hand as he avenged himself in a number of ways. He wasn't even invited to Canada's preliminary camp last year despite how well he was playing in the QMJHL, and this year helped prove that perhaps that was a mistake. An even bigger mistake, one that was cemented into place if it hadn't been already, was 29 other teams letting him drop all the way to 80th overall in the 2013 draft.
Igor Shesterkin, as upset as he must be over how the Gold Medal game went for him, should also be content with the overall experience. Having started the tournament as the backup, he eventually won games for Russia and earned the trust of his coaching staff. He goes back to Russia with a 1.98 Goals Against Average and a .938 Save Percentage in five games, and if not outright outperformed Ilya Sorokin, then at least showed he's on the same level. Sorokin is a bonafide starting goaltender in the KHL already. One has to wonder if SKA St. Petersburg, who alternated between placing Shesterkin in the MHL (minor league) and the VHL (junior league), will now give him a chance in the KHL after the performance he just had.
And finally there is Pavel Buchnevich. The one goal and five assist he produced in seven games is perfectly acceptable, though I'm sure he'll wish he did more. In any case, he not only produced on the scoresheet but also displayed a much more complete game in this tournament when comparing to how he played last year. Like Duclair, he reiterated to all the scouts watching that it was a poor decision to let him fall into the third round in 2013. Not that Glen Sather is complaining.
The immediate future for Buchnevich is clear; he'll return to Severstal of the KHL and continue to earn big minutes there as they try to earn a playoff spot. But then what? The KHL Final is in late April, but it seems unlikely that Severstal would make it that far. In fact, they are currently out of a playoff spot. It seems that Buchnevich's KHL season will end somewhere between early February and mid March. Especially with Duclair returned to Quebec and not available until late May, could the Rangers try to bring Buchnevich over for the Spring like they did with Kreider in 2012 and Zuccarello in 2013?
I spoke to Buchnevich's agent, Todd Diamond of International Sports Advisors, back on December 18th. Things could have changed since then, but as of that time he claimed that the there were no actual contract negotiations going on. He didn't foresee them beginning anytime soon either.
"But obviously the Rangers are very interested in having him," Diamond said.
Contract negotiations aside, Diamond pointed out another big obstacle to consider.
"He'll potentially be with the men's national team. They have a camp in March," Diamond said.
That camp is for the World Championships, which take place from May 1st through May 17th. While not a lock, it would seem very likely that Buchnevich is at least invited to the camp, and could very well make the team. Based on IIHF rules, Russia has priority on Buchnevich and would have to grant permission for him to forego the team and play in the Rangers' organization instead. The Rangers experienced a similar issue with Jesper Fast two years ago, as he was only able to play one game in the AHL before making the trip back to Europe to represent Sweden at the WC.
As for what it would take for Buchnevich to sign with the Rangers? One obstacle always feared is the money situation. Buchnevich would be signing an entry-level contract with the Rangers, meaning that the best possible deal Buchnevich could sign with the Rangers is, including bonuses, $1.2583 million annually for three years. An already good player like Buchnevich who will only get better could likely get more money from a team in the KHL. The limits of an entry-level contract do not seem to be much of a deterrent for Buchnevich, however.
"He already understands what those parameters are."
Instead, it's going to be about where he is in his development and what the Rangers' plans are for him.
"It's more... is he in the NHL? If we do sign, we have to see how he performs. But obviously the expectations are that he will be ready to play right away or very quickly."
Still, Diamond and Buchnevich recognize that it's hard to negotiate on any certainty in regards to playing time now when so much can happen at any time to alter the makeup of the Rangers' roster.
"It's premature because many things can happen between now and then with respect to free agency and trades," Diamond said. "You can never rely on people saying, 'he's going to make our lineup,' because that's just reality."
When asked about how much time Buchnevich would be willing to spend in Hartford, the Rangers' AHL affiliate, Diamond again reiterated that it was premature to discuss that.
"We haven't gotten to that part of the process. When we start talking about the contract we will have those types of discussions."
One big aspect that, as it plays out going forward, could influence Buchnevich's next steps, as well as those of many others in the KHL, is the decline of the Russian economy. Its impact on the KHL's finances are well known by now, and rumors are spreading of the league going forward with contraction soon. Diamond explained the problem a number of players are facing.
"It seems different than what we're used to over here where a player receives his pay every two weeks like clockwork," Diamond said. "I would say over (in Russia) half (the KHL) is that way and the other half of the league is a bit random. But at the end of the day they're always obligated to pay by the end of May."
Diamond said that the players know what they're getting into when they sign with those teams. In Buchnevich's case, Diamond isn't overly concerned.
"He is being paid," he said. "I'm not 100 percent sure if Severstal is on schedule at this moment or if they're a bit behind but it is what it is."
As Diamond repeated multiple times, it's still very early and a lot can happen in the next few months. Nonetheless, my inference from both this discussion as well as other information and observations is that Buchnevich is very eager to make the jump the NHL, and it's a matter of "when" and not "if." In any case, it's my opinion (and let me emphasize that it's that only) that, one way or another, Buchnevich is under contract for the 2015-2016 season.