By every conceivable metric, Pavel Buchnevich is one of the most productive forwards on the Rangers. Except for the one metric that’s most easily controlled: Ice time.
That’s a blunt lead to this story, but it’s about the only way you can start an article like this. Buchnevich is amazing in almost every way (nearly to the point of saying “unquestionably so”) and yet he simply doesn’t get the ice time from his head coach. At this stage in the game, this is as close to a fireable offense as Alain Vigneault has had in his career in New York (which is saying something). Hell, even Sports Illustrated knows what the Rangers have in Buchnevich (read this if you haven’t).
To simply things further, here’s a handy cheat sheet for all important metrics on the year, and where Buchnevich stands against his own teammates:
You can make a very fair argument that if Mika Zibanejad hadn’t missed five games this year he would overtake Buchnevich for goals (they’re tied with 11 right now) and points. Even if that were the case, though, Buchnevich would fall to third on the team in goals and points -- and that’s assuming Buchnevich wouldn’t have put up points with Zibanejad there as well. Even so, Buchnevich has made a ridiculously impact for the Rangers and hasn’t been rewarded for his efforts. And you can make a solid argument that Vigneault’s lack of playing him is not just unfair but is actively hurting the team.
Out of curiosity, I looked among each team’s top two forwards in points and where they stood in terms of their own team’s ice time (among forwards only). The results are pretty much exactly what you would expect. (Any team where the 2nd and 3rd point producers were tied were also added, which is why some teams have three players.)
Outside of Columbus (the John Tortorella effect), Montreal (where noted agitator Brendan Gallagher is somehow leading the team in points), Chicago (who has a rookie who is lighting the world on fire in Alex DeBrincat), and New Jersey (Jesper Bratt is doing the same thing) most every team, well, plays their best players a lot. That’s because this is the easy part of the equation: You can control ice time, so give it to your players who are putting up points.
Buchnevich, for whatever reason, does not get this benefit of thinking. Buchnevich has played just a minute more per game than Jimmy Vesey (10 points in 31 games), 45 seconds more than Jesper Fast (15 points in 26 games, but isn’t a player expected to produce offense), a full 1:07 behind linemate Chris Kreider (Buchnevich has more goals, assists, and points), and nearly three and a half minutes less than Zibanejad. I had this argument when I wrote about why Buchnevich vs. Vesey was something that didn’t need to happen, but the point of this article isn’t to put down other Rangers. The point is to say that Buchnevich should be elevated above most of his teammates when it comes to ice time, simply because he produces when given the opportunity. That;s sort of how this entire thing works, no?
The one area Vigneault gives Buchnevich his ice time is on the power play; where Buchnevich’s 2:59 per game is third on the team and second among forwards. At the very least, Vigneault recognizes that Buchnevich is a difference maker with the puck, but why hasn’t he seen that at 5v5 as well?
People claim he’s bad in his own zone, but that’s beat reporter and MSM fallacies because he’s a European player who takes risks with the puck. That there were even people willing to publicly argue the fact that Vesey was a better, more polished player is laughable. And those arguments have predictably died down as Buchnevich continues his ascent to being a damn good, potentially great hockey player. And if you needed further proof, you can see from the above that his possession metrics are at the top of the shelf -- which includes a noticeable dip with David Desharnais on his line (Kreider is seeing this as well as Pat discusses here).
Young players like this don’t come around very often. While most 18- and 19-year-old players are killing lesser competition in junior hockey, Buchnevich was plying his trade against men in the KHL. At 18 he had 18 points in 40 KHL games, at 19 he had 30 in 48 (then put up 20 points in 11 MHL playoff games -- think of the MHL as the AHL to the KHL), and at 20 he put up 37 points in 58 games. His 20 points in 41 NHL games last year should have opened up eyes, but instead his coaching staff elected to healthy scratch him for Tanner Glass. It makes no sense, but that’s the way it’s been at times under this regime.
The good news is that Buchnevich is producing, and he’s playing in a top-six role. He hasn’t seen the fourth line for an extended period of time since earlier this year (again, insane) and it seems like he’s attracted enough national attention that he probably can’t be removed from the top-nine without some backlash. But there shouldn’t be safety nets when it comes to Buchnevich. There shouldn’t be a leash on his ice time.
He needs to be playing as much as he can, because when he is playing he’s helping the Rangers win hockey games.