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Pavel Buchnevich Should Be Given Bigger Opportunity in Second Half of Season

New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Pavel Buchnevich is a restricted free agent at season’s end, and there’s no shortage of opinion on his play and what to do with him for the remainder of the season.

Hopes and expectations were high for Buchnevich heading into this season, as he was coming off a 43-point campaign and he was finally free of Alain Vigneault. But that was then, and this is now, and in January 2019 the young Russian has a line of nine goals and six assists for 15 points in 32 games. A offensive outburst might have convinced the front office that he was a player on the rise deserving of long-term contract, but he’s likely headed toward a bridge deal.

We still have time on that front, so let’s focus on his play this season.

Fifteen points in 32 games translates to a points per game average of 0.47 after rounding, which is 0.02 lower than his rookie campaign and 0.11 lower than his sophomore season. The dip is concerning, so let’s dig in deeper to see if there’s a reason for it.

The first interesting thing is that Buchnevich has been thrown into a number of different combinations this season and he’s found ways to produce. Here’s a look at every goal he has been involved in this season.

H/T to Evan Oppenheimer for data pull
Hockey-Reference

There have been only two situations this season in which Buchnevich has a secondary point, so he has a primary point percentage of 86.6 percent. Furthermore, 15 different players have been involved in scoring plays with Buchnevich with Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello being the most frequent to pick up a point with Buchnevich.

So you might be thinking, thanks for the informative and ugly chart, but why should I care about this? I am glad you asked, and if you didn’t I am going to pretend you did. This next chart is going to look at Buchnevich’s most frequent linemates.

Corsica

The most popular lines that Buchnevich as been part of involve Brett Howden and Jimmy Vesey with Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes coming in second.

The results speak for themselves and highlight two different stories. One line has been terrible in terms of possession and shot share — Howden and Vesey — but has greatly outscored their expected amount of goals. The other — Kreider and Hayes — has put up potentially unsustainable success in terms of shot share and both actual and expected goals.

There’s two other lines that warrant a deeper look, though, based on their underlying numbers and lack of tangible results. The KZB line speaks for itself, as it’s a line that has historically driven play but has fallen short in terms of actual goals. This season the trio has spend 29:51 together, and the results aren’t there. The line has a PDO of 90.91 that consists of a shooting percentage of zero and a 90.91 save percentage — and the lack of actual goals is why they aren’t playing together.

The second line features Zibanejad centering Vlad Namestnikov and Buchnevich. It’s a line that performed better than the KZB line, yet received less TOI. Of the lines included in the table, this line is third in CF% and second in xGF%.. It also has the lowest PDO at 82.69 which accounts for a shooting percentage of 7.69 and an abysmal save percentage of 75 percent.

The Rangers very well could have something here, but the trio is unlikely to be reunited anytime soon given the current success of the ZZ Top line of Zibanejad, Zucarello and Kreider. In recent games it has been on fire. The KZB line will unlikely reunite for the same reasons, although a trade of Zuccarello would open the door for Buchnevich to rejoin his mates.

Moving onto the second set of highlights, these are situations that could explain a lack of production by Buchnevich. Of all the combinations that Buchnevich has been part of this season, the sixth and eighth most frequent involve Cody McLeod. Starting with combo six that also has Howden, the line has been an absolute dumpster fire. A CF% of 26.09 and xGF% of 16.59, both of which rank poorly among the other combinations the Rangers’ have deployed this season, and awful tangible results,.. you get the picture. Despite these floundering results, the line has spent nearly as much time together as Filip Chytil, Zibanejad, and Buchnevich, and nearly two minutes less than the aforementioned Vlad, Zbad and Buch line.

This is a problem on a number of levels, and is illuminating as to why Buchnevich’s offensive production is down. It should be noted that David Quinn somewhat addressed this after a game in which Buchnevich scored two power-play goals on the top unit while skating on the fourth line.

I understand his commentary in jest, but it doesn’t make the decision any less mind boggling. Buchnevich scored because he was in a position to succeed, and with individuals who don’t treat the puck like a hand grenade when it is on their stick.

The other two highlights involve a combo of McLeod and Boo Nieves, and Nieves with Howden. Both instances were short lived —17:52 and 15:25 respectively — but saw situations where the results were mostly negative, although those results can be skewed by their lack of minutes. Still, one situation saw a grinder and a rookie, the other a rookie and a player who had been skating in the AHL, and both situations put Buchnevich at a disadvantage, so it’s no wonder why he didn’t generate points.

So, what should we make of Buchnevich’s season given everything presented? I think it is impressive that he’s been able to pick up primary points with a different assortment of players. Outside of McLeod, he’s been able to generate offense with a lot of different teammates. I think the takeaway should be that finding him a permanent home is key, and pairing him with competent players is even more crucial. Nine of his 15 points have come at even strength and eight of them are primary. This means he is capable of driving offense, but he just needs people who can finish and set things up — that group means players like Kreider, Hayes, Zibanejad, Namestnikov and Chytil. Not McLeod or Howden who has hit the rookie wall hard, and maybe not even Nieves unless they have another scoring winger to balance the line out.

The trade deadline will likely open a few top six spots, and Buchnevich is an obvious candidate for a promotion. Buchnevich has been honest in admitting and understanding that Quinn has asked him to do certain things, and that he can be better. And since spending a game as a healthy scratch, he’s been making improvements that should result in more ice time. With an expanded opportunity, he should succeed — just whether or not he gets it remains to be seen.