What to Expect When You're Expecting Pavel Buchnevich
The Rangers signed their top forward prospect Pavel Buchnevich to an entry level contract two weeks ago and the expectations and hype for the kid are running really high. After trading away all of their first round picks, as well as fellow top prospects Anthony Duclair and Aleksi Saarela, the Rangers have a very thin prospect pool and this puts a big spotlight on the young winger from Cherepovets, Russia. While everyone is rightfully excited about the prospect of Buchnevich coming to Broadway and becoming the next Vladimir Tarasenko, there does seem to be a bit of hyperbole buzzing around him.
I've spent the last two years watching Buchnevich play for both Severstal and SKA as much as possible (not nearly as much as Blueshirt Banter Foreign Correspondent Alex Nunn) and I figured it'd be a good idea to do a deep dive into what kind of player Buchnevich is and what to expect from the 22 year old winger after comparing his production to a few other young Russian studs.
Size and Strength:
Pavel Buchnevich is listed at 6'2 176 pounds (I think he's a bit thicker than 176 but it's not by much) and has a very sturdy build with most of his strength coming from a thick trunk and strong core. Like most hockey players, Buch has that Hockey Ass™ that allows him to fend off defenders and protect the puck.
As you can see in the .gif above, Buchnevich is able to fight off an opposing winger, corral the puck, and then use his lower body to protect the puck and drive it on goal as a wrap around chance. Buch also has a very long reach that allows him to pick up loose pucks and gives him more room to maneuver.
Speed and Skating:
One of the first things that stood out to me watching Buchnevich is his skating. He has a long and graceful skating stride that makes use of those strong legs to eat up ice very quickly. His skating reminds me a lot of Evgeni Malkin.
A lot of people tend to conflate "fast" with "good skater" and it's not exactly accurate; you can be a good skater and have a clean skating stride while not having the best foot speed (hi Kevin Hayes!), you can also be ridiculously fast while also having a choppy, inefficient stride (hi Carl Hagelin!). Buchnevich falls more towards the Kevin Hayes end of the scale than Hagelin. He doesn't have the top end speed of a Chris Kreider or Carl Hagelin, but he has a first step acceleration as you can see in the .gif above, Buch pulls away from the defender and uses his long stride to get into open ice for the goal.
Pavel Buchnevich has a really, really good shot. It may sound simple, but that's because it is. Buch gets great rotation through his hips that generates a lot of speed on the puck (think of a batter in baseball taking a swing) and he has quick, strong wrists that allow for a quick snap release of his shot.
The goal above is probably the most complete example of what kind of player Buchnevich is. He protects the puck, fends off his defender, picks up his own rebound and uses his quick release to score the goal.
This is Buch playing the right point on Severstal's power play and walking into a huge slap shot. You can see how much power he generates coming from his hips and thighs as he doesn't even need that much of a wind up to wire that puck past the goaltender.
Playmaking and vision:
Buchnevich has a great shot and silky smooth hands that he's able to pull in tight to his body and maneuver around defenders and goalies with the best of them, but probably his most utilized skills are his passing and vision.
Buch started with Severstal mainly as a playmaker and facilitator of the puck but it wasn't until this past season that Buchnevich began to develop into more of a shoot first player. Buchnevich's vision and offensive instincts are really top notch and really complement his physical tools.
Production and Comparisons:
So I've gone into the tools that make Buchnevich a top prospect, now it's time to look into how he performed in the KHL, why he gets erroneously compared to some players, and how it translates to the NHL level.
If you follow me on twitter then you probably have seen my tracking project for Buchnevich, using his production and per hour rates in comparison with other young Russian stars Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko. Since Buchnevich had been signed by the Rangers, you've probably seen reports with a phrase similar to "[Buchnevich's] production compares to Vladimir Tarasenko." I don't really like that phrasing, because a comparison implies a 1 to 1 thing and that's not really fair to either player.
As you can see in the chart above, Buchnevich does have very similar numbers to both Kuznetsov and Tarasenko, but they are not exactly comparable players. The column to really look at is the shots per game column (SPG). Tarasenko and Kuznetsov were at or over 3 shots per game each year they were in the KHL, while Buchnevich came close to but never really vaulting the 3 per game threshold (he actually did have 3.1 S/G with Severstal but his time with SKA bumped him down a bit).
There is a player who Buchnevich does compare to more closely, and that's Artemi Panarin
Now Panarin is two years older than Buchnevich but when Panarin was Buch's age, the two were very close in terms of production both raw and in hourly rates.
So we know how Buchnevich's production looks amongst his peers, but what does this all mean in terms of NHL production? Well, for that we turn to something that is a little bit on the fancier side in something called NHL equivalencies.
NHL equivalencies are a way of taking production from other leagues and seeing how it translates to NHL production. You can read more about the process here and you can see the updated NHLe values that I used for my data here.
So using the NHLe formulation we can see that Buchnevich grades out again similar to Tarasenko and Kuznetsov, but still falls just short of a true one to one comparison. This doesn't mean that Buchnevich is a bad player, just that he's not in the same tier of talent as two elite to very very good young talents.
So...what does this all mean for Buchnevich? Well, I've said it a lot that Buchnevich could (should?) have been the Rangers 3RW next to Kevin Hayes coming into this past season. He's the perfect complement to Hayes's play style and could be the shoot first threat the Rangers have been looking for for a long time. The biggest thing for Buchnevich's success is that Rangers coaching staff needs to have patience and allow Buch to take risks offensively -- allow him to make mistakes, and then allow him the time to learn from them.