Time may be linear, or it may be a flat circle.
In the world of the New York Rangers, sometimes it seems like it can be both at the same time. It feel like just yesterday we were arguing between Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. Now we’re doing the same thing, but with Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich.
Let me say this before we begin: I am very happy both are a member of the Rangers, and in no way should a fan have to pick and chose between favorite players. However, Alain Vigneault is not a fan; he has placed Vesey in a far better position to succeed on offense than Buchnevich, and it’s a decision that dates back to last year – this is something that has to end.
The media, for the most part, enjoys a good ol’ North American boy who plays a north-south game and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. So in that regard, Vesey has become someone the media has jumped on as a hockey golden boy. I like Vesey a lot. I think he’s exactly the type of depth player teams who win the Stanley Cup have an abundance of. If the goal is to put out the best possible lineup, though, there is no world in which he should be in a better depth chart position over Buchenvich.
The argument from the media is that Vesey is a better player right now, but even that doesn’t make sense. The chart below shows 5v5 stats from both players from the 2016-17 season and what’s come so far this year:
Quick takeaway – Buchnevich is the far superior player on both ends of the ice. At 5v5 his possession numbers are above 50% in both seasons, he has a +18 goal differential against Vesey at even strength, and nearly doubles Vesey’s offensive production. That means Buchnevich is both better in his own end and producing more offense. Plus, Buchnevich had just three less 5v5 points in his 39 less games than Vesey’s 80, which should say a lot about where both players are offensively.
Here’s a look those same numbers over the same time span, in all situations (so 5v5, penalty kill, or power play time lumped in together):
Again – Buchnevich is creating more offense (2.21 P/60 versus Vesey’s 1.49 last year), a +16 raw swing in goals for, and seven fewer total points in only 39 less games last year. So far this year, Buchnevich has literally doubled Vesey’s production of offense P/60. So why in the world isn’t Buchnevich playing more?
As you can see, Buchnevich is getting a lot of power play time that Vesey isn’t (which is why it’s important to look at all situations as well). But even so, Buchnevich is a far superior 5v5 player, who should be leaned on heavily. The fact that Vigneault didn’t learn from last year is alarming – but not surprising.
It should also be noted that Buchnevich should be better. When Vesey was tearing up the ECAC ice with Harvard, Buchnevich was carving a living for himself in the KHL. From 2012-2015 (the four years Vesey was in college) Buchnevich amassed 158 regular season KHL games and 87 points. Vesey had 144 points in 128 NCAA games. I don’t throw that out there to take away from Vesey, but to highlight just how much more polish Buchnevich should (and does) have to his game. When Vesey was 20-years-old he was a sophomore in college; Buchnevich was in his fourth year in the KHL, splitting time between being the go-to guy for Severstal and then getting moved in a blockbuster deal to SKA. There’s really no comparison here.
For a coach who desperately needs offense – especially at 5v5 – this is a strange decision. So was sitting Buchnevich for Tanner Glass in the playoffs last year. The point? Vigneault doesn’t think Buchnevich is good enough for a daily role, and that’s crazy talk.
The worst part is this doesn’t need to happen. I love Jesper Fast as much as the next guy, but he is a perfect fourth line player. Him playing next to Adam Cracknell and Michael Grabner would be a formidable fourth line that can handle tougher minutes from the opposition. Thinking Grabner is going to shoot 21% again this year is comically poor thinking – and Jeff Gorton/Vigneault seemed to have banked on it.
Both Buchnevich and Vesey should be in the top nine, without exception. Only one of the two of them, however, has actual top-line talent, and it’s Buchnevich. Much like the aforementioned Callahan, Vesey is a gritty scorer who relies on hustle more than skill. Buchnevich is simply talented, and you can see it from the way he controls the play.
The easy answer is Vesey is more defensively responsible. Well, as you can see above, that’s not true. When Buchnevich is on the ice, the Rangers score more goals than they allow, he controls and posses the puck more, and puts up more points. But this isn’t a knock on Vesey, Buchnevich is simply the better player.
Now it’s time for Vigneault to start playing him like it.