As the offseason turns to the dog days of summer, us fans are left counting the days until October. The roster appears to be set, and the Rangers look like they won’t be making any big moves. Naturally, that can all change, but I think it’s safe to say that Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich will be on the club and form the Rangers’ top line next season.
The KZB line has been phenomenal when together. They seem to gel together, and complement each other nicely. Zibanejad is the scorer, Kreider is the beast, and Buchnevich is the visionary. Everything seems to work for them. But there seems to be an argument that Buchnevich (or Kreider) is the passenger on the line. So let’s look at those claims. Who really drives that line?
*-Note: I am forming conclusions as I write the post, based on what I’m seeing. This is not a preconceived notion/post.
The first thing I want to look at is an overall summary of the two players perceived to be passengers on the line, Kreider and Buchnevich. The first thing that really jumps out at me is how much Buchnevich contributes to getting shots. He’s far and away the best on the line at creating shots.
For comparison’s sake, here’s Buch and Zibanejad:
Again, Buchnevich is much better at generating shots for his linemates. On an aside, I found it shocking how little Zibanejad shoots at even strength. Then again, most of us are thinking of his shots at the Ovechkin spot, which is on the powerplay.
All in all, it looks like the offense runs through Buchnevich while in the offensive zone. But that’s only 1/3 of the ice surface. We need to look at how they enter the offensive zone to really gauge how efficient they are in the neutral zone, and how they exit the defensive zone.
Based on the above controlled zone entry/exit data, it’s Zibanejad who really drives the puck through the neutral zone, and Kreider through the defensive zone. Buchnevich doesn’t excel at all in these areas. Based on Alain Vigneault’s old systems, this makes sense. It was Kreider who was leveraged to carry the puck out of the defensive zone with his speed, and it was Zibanejad who was charged with setting his teammates up with speed entering the offensive zone. It fit with his quality over quantity and rush based tactics.
Since we’ve garnered that all three complement each other nicely, the question then shifts to whether or not they form a formidable first line. Let’s be clear first, none of the three are elite talent. Buchnevich may hit that elite talent threshold given the consistent chance, but Kreider and Zibanejad fall in the “very good” category.
Looking at a Kreider/Buchnevich comparison above, we see that both drive offense and score at a first line rate. Buchnevich lags behind in raw CF% and some other xG metrics, but I am going to attribute that to his role on the fourth line for roughly half his ice time. Truly amazing what he’s been able to do while bouncing around the lineup under AV.
Here’s Zibanejad’s numbers, next to Buchnevich’s because I can’t compare three players at once. More of what we’ve mentioned above. The three of them have different strengths which cover each others weaknesses. It worked under AV. In the end, there is no one player that drives the line, and it looks like they form a nice top line. And just think, there’s a chance that they could become the second line in the near future.
That should excite you."Who really drives the KZB line?",