Pavel Buchnevich is off to an impressive start in 2019-20, and has quietly been one of the New York Rangers’ most valuable players.
Artemiy Panarin has rightfully garnered significant headlines and attention, but his fellow countryman deserves some recognition as Buchnevich is delivering in what should be his breakout year.
Through the Rangers’ first 19 games, Buchnevich ranks first in GAR (7.5) and WAR (1.3) courtesy of the folks at Evolving-Hockey.com. Among all NHL forwards, he ranks eighth in GAR, and seventh in WAR which is pretty, pretty, pretty good.
As a general disclaimer, obviously these stats are just one way of looking things. I know there’s some resistance to using these “all-in-one” metrics to judge, evaluate, and rate players. No one in their right mind is going to see Buchnevich being ahead of Connor McDavid and think he’s the better hockey player. But, even in this small sample, it points to his encouraging start, and gives us a jumping off point to dive deeper.
His goals among replacement (GAR) includes an even strength offense rating of 7.8, an even strength defense rating of -1.3, a power play offense rating of 0.9, a shorthanded defense rating of 0, a penalties taken rating of 0.1, and a drawn penalties rating of 0.2. Being very productive at 5v5 is also a huge boost, and it helps that his only negative rating is minor, therefore not dragging down his total score.
What’s pushing his GAR forward is that even strength ranking, so let’s take a deeper look there. If we start with scoring, Buchnevich has 12 points at 5-on-5, which trails only Panarin (15). To factor in ice time, we can look at his scoring rates; the winger’s 2.79 points per 60 ranks third on the team behind Panarin (3.09 per 60), and and sophomore Filip Chytil (3.40 per 60, which is heavily influenced by his strong play in 10 games).
With Buchnevich on the ice, the Rangers take 44.21 percent of the shot share, and are expected to take 50.79 of the goal share (both rank fourth). The playmaking winger is known for the offense he brings, and that holds true this year at 5-on-5; he increased their shot rate for by 1.71 relative to his teammates, expected goal rate for by 0.64, and their actual goal rate of 2.17.
Panarin finished second to Buchnevich in both categories with a GAR of 6.8, and a WAR of 1.1. That doesn’t mean that he’s been a more effective, though, because it’s clear the impact Panarin’s had so far. The reason Buchnevich has an edge over the team’s leading scorer has been his proficiency 5v5. In just under 264 minutes of ice time, Buchnevich has 12 points, including two goals and nine primary assists. Panarin has 15 points, including five goals and five primary assists. Buchnevich having fewer secondary points (1) than Panarin (5) gives him an edge, but overall things have been good for both skaters. Buchnevich has also been a little bit better in terms of xGF and CF per 60, and here’s a quick side-by-side view of the two forwards.
The one “negative” is that Buchnevich’s PDO is high at 107.86, although there are a number of forwards in the same boat. The top five include:
- Panarin — 14.83 SH% + 93.61 SV% = 108.44 PDO
- Buchnevich — 16.53 SH% +91.33 SV% = 107.86 PDO
- Chytil — 13.24 SH% + 93.82 SV% = 107.06 PDO
- Ryan Strome — 12.24 SH% + 93.96 SV% = 106.2 PDO
- Mika Zibanejad — 11.46 SV% + 92.57 SV% = 104.03 PDO
The important thing to remember is that over the balance of a season both categories have a chance to normalize, but there are situations where a player shoots the lights out, and a goalie just goes on a run. In the case of Buchnevich, he’s only taken 28 shots and scored thrice. He historically isn’t a volume shooter, so him being on a PDO bender propped up by shooting percentage isn’t that alarming.
He’s been playing significant minutes with Filip Chytil, who has six goals 5v5 on 22 shots which equates to shooting percentage of 27.27. Buchnevich also happens to have the lowest on-ice save percentage of the top five, so all things considered I wouldn’t assign as many red flags when evaluation his performance.
What’s encouraging about Buchnevich is that his numbers don’t just rank well on the team, but in the league. He currently is one of the league’s best setup men. Leon Draisaitl currently leads the league with 12 primary assists in 23 games, and there is then a tie for second at nine that includes Connor McDavid (23 GP), David Pastrnak (21 GP), and Buchnevich (19 GP). Notable players behind Buchnevich include Aleksander Barkov, Nathan MacKinnon, Elias Pettersson, and Logan Couture just to name a few.
With all of this said, Buchnevich is off to a great start, and the key for him will be continuing his play the rest of the way. Here’s a quick look at how Buchnevich has performed through his first 19 games of each season to date, and how he fared the rest of the way.
Buchnevich right now is playing with confidence, and is having some solid success. Having Panarin on the team gives him a friend, mentor, and someone to have a conversation with. Over the years Buchnevich has worked to improve his English, but I imagine that having someone else he can converse with in his native tongue is beneficial, especially during those times when he’s struggling and just needs to vent to someone. Panarin is also a player who sets a good example on the ice with his skill, vision, strength, and competitiveness, and that’s another benefit for young players like Buchnevich.
As the chart above indicates, we’ve seen Buchnevich do this before, but I think that being in his fourth year in the league he’s a more mature hockey player in a position to continue having success. I don’t think it will be to the tune of almost a point per game, but we will wait and see.
Buchnevich has been the beneficiary as a setup man to some good players who have cashed in, but he deserves credit for putting in the work and going to the dirty areas along the boards to fight for pucks, and also driving to the net.
If this is the real Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers will be in good shape as they go forward with their build, because that will mean they will have one less top-six winger spot to fill. The one catch is that Buchnevich signed a bridge deal this past summer, but safe to say it is way too early to think about numbers as the team’s cap situation will be vastly different when it is time to re-sign him.