We may as well start this bluntly.
Here's a dirty little secret about Alain Vigneault that's often overlooked: His track record for developing young talent is pretty bad. Not "okay" or "something he needs to work on" but pretty bad. And "pretty bad" might be me being generous.
The article that's being circulated a lot this summer is the Vancouver Sun's article on Vigneault's firing back when he was let go by Vancouver. That story has a lot to digest, but this particular paragraph is relevant to this current situation (bold is my emphasis):
During his time here, Vigneault displayed an inability to consistently nurture young talent. In the salary cap constrained world, getting contributions from young players with small salaries is paramount.
To his credit, Vigneault developed the likes of Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen and Chris Tanev. But more strikingly, players like Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian could never find their way out of his doghouse ...
Clearly, young players who were committed to defense first (like Tanev and Hansen) would be in the good books of Vigneault, while those with creative offensive instincts (Hodgson and Kassian) would be forever shackled. At yesterday's press conference, Gillis acknowledged the importance of getting contributions from younger players going forward, a passive indictment of Vigneault's record in that regard.
Sound familiar? The Jesper Fast example as a "defense first" forward who was in Vigneault's good graces pairs well with the Kevin Hayes/Emerson Etem subjective wheel of justice. Dylan McIlrath and Oscar Lindberg test this theory, but Vigneault's love of veteran leadership is more than enough to explain those blips on the radar.
Pavel Buchnevich is probably the most important prospect to enter the New York Rangers in a long time. Chris Kreider was up there in the 2011-2012 playoffs -- when the Rangers made their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final during this golden era of Rangers hockey -- but that team was young and budding; not even sure themselves of what they were yet.
Buchnevich represents something far more important: Hope. He's a young player with elite offensive skills and game-breaking talent. His current NHL comparables to his KHL scoring is enough to make your mouth water without ever seeing him in a North American hockey rink. And unlike most prospects, Buchnevich has plied his trade for years in one of the top three professional hockey leagues in the world.
That's going to lead to the type of expectations that fester into knee-jerk fans screaming "bust" or "has to season in the AHL" before we hit the holiday season.
Remember, just because Buchnevich is playing professional hockey doesn't mean there aren't adjustments he needs to make. The transition from Russia to North America isn't an easy one, especially for someone who speaks little to no English. It's also worth noting Buchnevich will need to adapt to the smaller ice surfaces, the increased speed of the game and a new system and teammates.
Which is why you probably have a pit in your stomach when you think about him being developed in New York.
I'm sure Vigneault and company are going to be briefed on him by the powers that be in this organization. Thanks to a clause in his contract, Buchnevich can bolt the Rangers if he is sent to the AHL, so it's all but assured he will be on Broadway for the entire length of his three-year entry level contract.
Pavel Buchnevich (#NYRangers)— General Fanager (@generalfanager) May 14, 2016
3 yr @ $925,000 cap hit
$832,500 NHL salary annually + $92,500 SB. Deal also includes Euro assignment clause.
@BrianPLimitone if assigned to AHL, he has option to head back.— General Fanager (@generalfanager) May 14, 2016
Buchnevich is the type of prospect who can change the outlook of a team. This isn't to say he's going to become the next Vladimir Tarasenko, but their KHL comparables are really similar. Same goes for Buchnevich and Evgeny Kuznetsov or Artemi Panarin.
The Rangers might have a gem in the rough (remember, Gordie Clark drafted him AFTER Adam Tambellini and Anthony Duclair), and the organization always thought of him as their best prospect -- which is why Duclair and not Buchnevich was included in the Keith Yandle trade.
Buchnevich needs a top-nine role, consistent linemates and a fair amount of ice time. I'm not saying Vigneault needs to play him 20 minutes a night, but it would be nice to see him log more than the 11-minutes with no third period reps Lindberg, Hayes and others fall into when they're playing but somewhat in the doghouse.
He also has to be allowed to make mistakes, punishment free, and be expected to spread his creative wings and screw up rather than be punished for it. He has the talent to be an elite-goal scorer in this league, and he's not going to get there if Vigneault grinds him into a "safe or die" player who is afraid to take risks. There's going to be bumps, probably a significant amount of them in the beginning, but they need to be accepted and then learned from.
It's all part of the process for a young player. Remember, when Panarin came over to Chicago he A) was 24-years-old (Buchnevich is 21), B) had five full seasons and seven partial seasons of KHL action under his belt and C) played on a much better KHL team for most of his career there. He was more polished naturally before tearing into the NHL this year, to expect the same from Buchnevich in the same time frame would be a little unfair.
That includes the coaching staff. They need to be prepared for mistakes and allow him some time to gel. He probably won't fit with his linemates right away, and it will take some time for him to get used to the system. If he comes in and lights the world on fire then that's awesome, but more than likely he's going to need to learn the game at this level for at least a few weeks or so.
The rewards for doing this properly could be an amazing thing. Now that Buchnevich is locked up him staying in Russia for another year was the best thing for him. He took on a much bigger role for a very bad team, got moved to one of the top clubs in the KHL and then earned some vital KHL playoff experience. All of that will help show you -- hopefully -- a much more polished prospect than most.
But that's only part of the equation here. The Rangers have now picked up the torch in terms of his development and need to run with it. The way Buchnevich needs to be handled goes against everything Vigneault has done here in New York (for most, at least).
Since the head coach needs to make some massive changes to himself anyway, there is no better time to start.