From a purely statistical viewpoint the first 18 games of Pavel Buchnevich's 20-year old KHL season have been very impressive. With six goals and 13 points to lead his Severstal team in scoring, Buchnevich is not that far short of early numbers posted by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko at the same age. It cannot be understated that they were on better teams, too.
But when you dig deeper and actually look at what Buchnevich has done on the ice so far this season, his start becomes even more tantalizing.
I've said all along that I felt his decision to stay in Russia this year was the correct one. Buchnevich looks confident, comfortable, and he is enjoying the consistency of big minutes and tough match-ups on a nightly basis. He thrives under pressure and has rewarded coaching staff for a big push this season.
His team-mates have certainly appreciated the effort too.
After seven games this season Buchnevich had just two points to his name, but it is important to give context to those numbers. Buchnevich was the best player on the ice through most of those games and his line consistently created chances, but a combination of near-misses, great saves and post hits kept him off the scoreboard. He just needed the dam to break.
And it did. Buchnevich netted a dazzling, highlight-reel goal against Metallurg Novokuznetsk in the first of back-to-back multi-point efforts. He managed to pick the top corner while falling over after being tripped up on the play, and then took a whack off the post for his troubles. His assist against Avtomobilist just 48 hours later was perhaps even better and he kicked on to post a four-game scoring streak through mid-September.
His assist against Avtomobilist is a great example of what Buchnevich is about when not in possession of the puck. He hassles and hurries opposing defenseman constantly and drives much of Severstal's offense through forced turnovers and takeaways behind the net and in the corners. He's tough to shift on the puck and hard to shake off it.
Something I feel has been key for Buchnevich is the consistency of skating alongside Severstal's experienced alternate captain Yuri Trubachyov. The pair have spent most of the last 18 months as line-mates with a revolving door of ever-changing options at left-wing. Trubachyov is a positive influence and will often be the first guy in to a celebratory scrum after a big Buchnevich play.
Save for a blank on September 22nd at Spartak, Buchnevich would go on to post at least a point in eight of his next nine games. His three game-winning goals this season already surpass his total for last year and there definitely seems to be less reluctance to pass the puck than we have seen from him in the past.
His habit of looking to force a pass has always been a frustrating one for someone with such a good shot, but Buchnevich is shooting the puck more often this year and scoring in a number of different ways. His one-timer on the power play against Avangard gave Buchnevich a first marker on the man advantage for over two years at KHL level; an indicator of Severstal's criminal misuse of him on the PP rather than anything else.
That shot placement, right?
Something that has not changed is Buchnevich's relentless pursuit of every puck battle. One thing that he stressed was important when deciding to stay in Russia this season was his need to get stronger as he did not feel he was adequately built for NHL competition at this stage. And he does look stronger. Much stronger.
Buchnevich has married that combination of body strength and puck skill better than I've seen from him at any point in the past. He goes in to a 50/50 battle and rarely comes out empty-handed. He puts a shift in defensively too, and though there are a couple of instances where he has been culpable for a goal against this year, his game has improved considerably inside his own blue line.
Severstal head coach Vaclav Sykora has entrusted the Buchnevich line with seeing out the final minute on a number of occasions already this season, be it while chasing a goal or holding a slim lead. That's an element of trust on the part of coaching staff that we had not always seen before and he has absolutely earned it.
It might not be ideal to see Buchnevich languished on a struggling roster, but people tend to forget that he is a Cherepovets kid born and bred. His game has developed entirely under the Severstal banner and he cares deeply for his hometown club. I'd like to see him get a realistic crack at KHL playoff success just as much as the next person, but I do feel he is in the right spot at the moment.
And hopefully he's on Broadway sooner than later.