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What More Does Pavel Buchnevich Have to Prove to Alain Vigneault?

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Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Pavel Buchnevich is a player with elite star potential, and abilities much greater than you’d expect from a third-round draft choice. He showed that much on his first goal at Madison Square Garden last season.

During his time in the KHL he put up respectable numbers similar to that of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko, but there was always a question: what would happen when he came to North America? Buchnevich signed his entry level contract last season, and it was a promising year in which he was under utilized, and even spent some time with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

This all leads to this season which started off promising when Buchnevich was penciled in as the Rangers’ top-line right wing on opening night. Since that point he’s moved further and further down the lineup and now occupies a spot on the fourth line. He’s embraced the role and continues to produce night in and night out which begs the question; what more does he have to prove to get a fair shake in the top six?

Heading into this season Buchnevich has proved himself, leading the team last season in a number of key metrics including:

  • 5v5 P/60 | 2.13 | Team Rank: 1st
  • 5v5 P1/60 | 1.46 | Team Rank: 6th
  • 5v5 Rel xGF% | 6.94 | Team Rank: 3rd
  • 5v5 Rel CF% | 2.91 | Team Rank: 6th

Overall these are really good numbers for Buchnevich, and should have resulted in him receiving some trust to start the season. He’s a gifted offensive player and that showed in all situations, but especially at even strength.

Fast forwarding to this season, here is a look at the breakdown of Buchnevich’s time on ice.

Pavel Buchnevich Time on Ice YTD

EV TOI EV TOI/GP SHTOI SH TOI/GP PP TOI PP TOI/GP TOI TOI/GP SHIFTS/GP
EV TOI EV TOI/GP SHTOI SH TOI/GP PP TOI PP TOI/GP TOI TOI/GP SHIFTS/GP
127:17 10:36 0:05 0:00 47:47 3:58 175:09 14:35 18.75

What this chart indicates is that Buchnevich is getting a sizable amount of ice time on the power play, while getting short changed at even strength. Despite this deployment he has made great use of time 5v5, and here’s how ranks in some key metrics.

5v5 TOI | 127: 17 | Team Rank: 14th

5v5 P/60 | 1.97 | Team Rank: 4th

5v5 P1/60 | 1.97 | Team Rank: 1st

5v5 Rel CF% | 4.29 | Team Rank: 4th

5v5 xGF | 7.67 | Team Rank: 4th

5v5 xGF% | 61.71 | Team Rank: 1st

5v5 Rel xGF% | 15.51 | Team Rank: 1st

I think by now you get the point, but for whatever reason Alain Vigneault does not. Not only has Buchnevich put up quality numbers, but he’s done it in a loud way on the ice. What I mean by this is Buchnevich has been very visible on the ice and not just doing things in the shadows.

Here’s a few examples of what I am talking about.

In this situation the Rangers were on the power play, and Buchnevich sauced a pass across that would have been finished by Nash had Carey Price not gotten a piece of it. Immediately afterwards Buchnevich got on the bench and grabbed one of the team iPads to review what happened.

Here Buchnevich scores on the power play with the help of a screen from Nash, but the important part is off the faceoff. Miller wins the draw to the boards and Buchnevich boxed out 6’4”, 230-pound Shea Weber to get the puck to Kevin Shattenkirk who starts the sequence. Buchnevich picked up the goal after firing home a hard and accurate one-timer from the point.

@hayyyshayyy

Here Buchnevich wins a battle along the boards and feeds the puck to Zibanejad who scores on a one-timer.

@hayyyshayyy

Here Buchnevich strips Joel Ward and Brent Burns of the puck which results in yet another goal by Zibanejad.

@hayyyshayyy

Here is just a fun clip of Buchnevich scoring a goal straight out of NHL 18 EASHL online when your opponent decided to play goalie.

@hayyyshayyy

Here is Buchnevich skating down the wall and using that sweet release to score an odd angle goal from the circle.

@hayyyshayyy

And lastly here’s a look at him trucking Brendan Gallagher just to dispel the classic stereotype of Russians being soft perimeter players.

Were all the GIFs above unnecessary? Maybe, but Vigneault should watch them. I don’t buy into the narrative that Buchnevich is an “incomplete” offense-only player who doesn’t deserve to be trusted, and who can’t hack it in the top six. (Not that there is anything wrong with offense-only players by the way. But Buchnevich isn’t one.)

The facts speak for themselves. When Buchnevich is on the ice he is engaged, he is physical and he is productive. He not only scores goals, but he goes to the dirty areas of the ice and digs pucks out. He is doing these things against defenders such as Shea Weber and Brent Burns. He wouldn’t have the numbers he has if he were some passenger riding on the coattails of someone else. It seems as if Vigneault forgets that the insertion of Buchnevich in the lineup against the Canadiens in the playoffs in lieu of Tanner Glass was a difference maker.

Buchnevich belongs in the top six, and why Jesper Fast and Jimmy Vesey are getting more looks up there remains a mystery. Ultimately Vigneault should reunite the KZB line up Kreider, Zibanejad and Buchnevich, because it is a banging line that gets things done.

In short, Buchnevich is a very talented player who has the potential to be the elite forward the Rangers have been pining for. He is a smart player who is making the best of a poor situation, and to paraphrase the late great Tom Petty, he belongs among the wildflowers. He belongs somewhere he feels free.

Stats via Corsica.