There is a prevailing stance in Rangersland that you either unequivocally love Pavel Buchnevich and think he can do no wrong, or you hate the Russian winger and think he’s a weak link on the team that should be moved for other, seemingly better players. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. When he came over to the team in 2016, Buch was seen as “The Future” joining a Rangers team deep in the late stages of the Alain Vigneault era. There was a lot of excitement around the 22 year old winger from Cherepovets, and in his first campaign, the young Russian put up 20 points in 41 NHL games (to go along with five points in four AHL games). It wasn’t a debut to set the world on fire, but it was a start for Buchnevich on Broadway.
Over the next couple of seasons, Buchnevich continued to get settled in the NHL and was fitting into a solid top six role but the point totals were...lacking in context to expectations as he picked up 43 points in his 74 game sophomore season and then just 38 in 68 games last season. There were rumblings beginning to bubble up around Buchnevich as his ELC expired and he needed a new contract, with no clear answer on what the team would do next. The options included:
A) Give the young winger a long-term extension, betting on the skill and talent that he’s shown in flashes but never truly consistently
B) Give Buchnevich a short-term bridge deal since he hadn’t “shown enough” to earn the commitment of a long-term contract
The Rangers and Buchnevich eventually agreed to a two-year, $6.5 million deal over the past offseason. An agreement that not only helps the Rangers navigate salary cap landmines, but it also gave Buch an opportunity to prove that the Rangers should have made that long-term bet on him.
The dirty little secret about Pavel Buchnevich is that he’s been very, very good for the Rangers throughout his young NHL career. It’s 2020, and we (should) know that judging and evaluating a player involves so much more than what you see in the box score after a game. Using newer statistics and visualizations from Evolving-Hockey.com and Hockeyviz.com (all data as of game 68 against the New Jersey Devils) we can take a deeper dive into Pavel Buchnevich and create a more complete picture to show how and why he’s earned his place on the Rangers’ top line this season.
As Adam explained in his piece about Brett Howden, these isolated impact graphics are fairly simple to understand; red areas are high concentration of offense, while blue areas are low areas of concentration.
When Pavel Buchnevich is on the ice, the team is expected to score almost 20% more goals compared to the average player. To put it even more simply, Buchnevich drives offense to an incredible degree and when he’s on the ice the puck is getting to the net. On the other end of the ice, Buchie is having a strong defensive impact as well as opponents are expected to score -7% fewer goals compared to an average player. This is also isn’t a new phenomenon, the Russian winger has been doing this his entire NHL career.
Buchnevich is having his best season since his rookie year, and it is encouraging to see him improve both offensively and defensively. By these metrics, Buchnevich has been a top-six to top-line player for the Rangers during his entire career, though the point production might not reflect it. Continuing our look at this season, it’s clear that as Buchie goes, the Rangers more or less go.
What we have above, is both the Rangers’ rolling Expected Goals For (xGF%) and Buchnevich’s Expected Goals For. Early in the season, head coach David Quinn was tinkering with everything leading to some really poor numbers and results for both the team and player. It didn’t help that Buchnevich lost his center, Mika Zibanejad, for a month, either. Then, right after Christmas around game 23, David Quinn reunited the KZB line. Buchnevich has found the most success in his short career playing alongside Chris Kreider and Zibanejad and you can see the impact of this reunion. He’s also enjoyed success with Filip Chytil, and for a brief period of time the “PCB” line of Panarin-Chytil-Buchnevich was fun to watch.
On top of all of this, another way we can also measure just how valuable “Captain Happy” has been to the Rangers this year is by usingEvolving-Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement and Wins Above Replacement (GAR and WAR). These are both rather simple to understand as well; essentially both measure how many goals or wins Buchnevich adds to the Blueshirts compared to a “replacement player” and this season Buchnevich has put up 12.4 GAR and a 2.2 WAR, both of which are third best on the Rangers and the best non-Artemiy Panarin forward on the team by a pretty wide margin (the next highest forward by GAR is Chris Kreider, with 7.6 GAR).
While these numbers are not the be-all-end-all, they make sense when you look at the other numbers cited above, and they tell the story of Buchnevich being a pretty impactful player. But there are other numbers worth mentioning for Buch.
His Relative to Teammate Corsi ± per 60 of 8.35 is best on the team, his Relative to Teammate xG± per 60 of 0.60, is also a team best. For Relative to Teammate Goals For ± per 60 this season is 0.41, which puts him in a time with Mika Zibanejad for fourth place. There are additional numbers I could include, and each of them reinforce the point that this has been a turning point year for Buchnevich.
A big part of Buchnevich's success is that 33 of his 44 points have come at evens, and all but eight are primary points. That plus his penalty differential and defensive impact has really helped him this season. https://t.co/Sxd1G313ki— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) March 10, 2020
Furthermore, what all of this is trying to say is that Pavel Buchnevich is, and has been, a top line player for the Rangers this season and his play has demanded his respect and recognition throughout Rangersland.