Back when Chris Kreider was a youthful boy at Boston College, Twitter and YouTube were in the beginning stages of becoming hype machines for incoming NHL prospects. You heard about the things Kreider had done with BC, but it wasn’t as easy as it is today to see it.
I often call Kreider the most hyped prospect the Rangers have ever had (mainly because he is really good and there was so much excitement around him with social media that it was impossible to not get on the bus).
In a way, I think Pavel Buchnevich rivaled that.
Plying his trade in the KHL, Buchnevich was like an exotic spice. You heard about it and saw other people eating it, but you had no real idea of what it was going to taste like until you went to that strange market on the other side of town to see if they had any in stock. For the Rangers, there was a constant fear Buchnevich wasn’t going to come over to the NHL and would spend his years working in the Russian professional hockey league. That didn’t happen, and his arrival in New York last summer was met with more excitement than I think we even thought possible.
The kid is a hype machine, though. His talent is unquestionably sky-high. He recorded a 0.55 PPG mark in his KHL career — which is remarkable considering he was a teenager for two and a half of those four years. Two years ago, when his KHL Severstal Cherepovets were eliminated from playoff contention, they sent him down to play in the MHL (which is basically the KHL’s version of the AHL). Playing against kids his age, he notched 20 points in 11 playoff games. Let that sink in for a moment.
Buchnevich has a rare blend of lethal shooting and unearthly vision. There were breakout passes that boggled the mind. Cross-ice feeds through traffic that should have been impossible. Snipes that dropped your jaw. Buchnevich has an unreal hockey IQ, and a born-with ability to find soft spaces on the ice for passes, or create space for himself. He’s a big body, who protects the puck well, and works hard along the boards. He can stand to shoot more, but that’s to be expected for a guy who is trying to find his way in the best hockey league in the world.
On the power play, Buchnevich ran the point at times and was a master distributor. When he was along the half-boards, he was as dangerous moving the puck as he was putting his shoulder down and crashing the net. He was also a neutral zone monster, and I don’t use that term lightly.
On the negative side of things: Sometimes he tried to get too fancy, and some games when his confidence was down he didn’t try to do enough. The latter could stem from him not really knowing his role/what risks were and weren’t allowed, but it still happened. Sometimes defensive reads weren’t great, but how much of that was him and how much was constant defensive breakdowns remains to be seen.
This year was something of an up and down roller coaster for the young Russian. For starters, he never earned the rare and elusive Alain Vigneault trust that hampers youth from getting legitimate minutes with this hockey team. An early injury to his back that kept him out for a month didn’t help, but post-injury AV was more than happy to throw him into a fourth-line role and complain that he wasn’t doing enough. All in, he spent four games in the AHL (he had five points), but that was through two separate stints. And one stint was cut to just a single game when Michael Grabner was injured.
Even with all that nonsense, Buchnevich had 20 points in 41 games. His P/60 metrics were among some of the best on the team, and in the playoffs (when he was allowed to play with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider in a top-six role) he was one of the Rangers best players. In the beginning of the year with that two, they were the Rangers best line bar none.
So what happened? He was benched for Tanner Glass of course, because that’s how things work when you don’t have the rare and elusive Alain Vigneault stamp of trust. Confidence might have been an issue down the stretch because no matter how much Buchnevich did, it was never enough for the head coach. It was as frustrating for the fans as it was for him, I’m sure. Especially since he’s already such a good, polished hockey player from his time in the KHL, and the Rangers basically wasted a potential year of development.
Thus, grading him is difficult. Since he was on a 40-point pace before injuries/healthy scratches, I would give him an A+. I think expecting someone who doesn’t speak the language to come to North America for the first time and make an impact right away on a smaller rink is harsh. Somehow he hit those expectations, even with this coaching staff making things more difficult than they had to. For a coaching group that has immense amounts of patience for guys like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Tanner Glass, and Nick Holden, it’s amazing that guys like Buchnevich (who have so much talent you can’t see the top of it) get thrown to the curb like a bag of garbage.
Next year is going to be big, both for Buchnevich and the coaching staff. They seem to be aware of his talent, and I would be very disappointed in them if they didn’t give him at least a top-nine role. He’s a diamond, and just needs to be polished. Already he has lived up to a level of his hype. The Rangers need more like him.
Report Card Grade: A for what he did accomplish. Incomplete for the whole year.