We keep hearing the comparisons between Evgeni Kuznetsov and Rangers prospect Pavel Buchnevich. Also how Buchnevich bested KHL numbers from a certain Vladimir Tarasenko – arguably the best young sniper in the NHL today. We also hear that expectations should be tempered for Buchnevich partly based on the period of adjustment required for the aforementioned rising stars – and rightly so. No one should expect Buchnevich to come in with no English, no exposure to the North American style of hockey and pot 30 goals as nice as that would be.
With all that said, not only can Buchnevich significantly help the Rangers on the ice – by adjusting quickly to the rigours of the NHL – but he can help Alain Vigneault and the perceived notion that he is a veteran-favouring coach who often ignores developing younger players for immediate gains.
Some of the recent accusations levied at Vigneault may be true. Even allowing us to disregard similar ‘habits’ during his time in Vancouver his way with younger Rangers players lead us to believe he trends towards his veterans more than he should. The way he handled Dylan McIlrath this season was beyond baffling. The way he was (seemingly) harder on JT Miller than he was on others and the way he utilised Oscar Lindberg suggests that Vigneault doesn’t focus enough on developing the next wave of Rangers as much as it is required. With all the stagnation in New York this year, Vigneault’s reputation has been tarnished and his usage of younger players isn’t helping his rep.
Whether it is born out of need or not (and it is), pushing Buchnevich meaningfully is Vigneault’s opportunity to change perceptions as well as develop the Rangers offensively. The Rangers need an infusion of talent up front and Buchnevich is it. He should be given legitimate consistent ice time, a long leash and be allowed to learn on the fly – and not be afraid to make mistakes…with reason.
In what is still a mediocre but quickly improving Eastern Conference the Rangers can allow Buchnevich to play top six minutes, maybe even underwhelm to begin with and – accounting for necessary improvements on defense and special teams – can still make the playoffs; even if Buchnevich at times is a passenger. But it’s on AV to do it.
Let us not forget that this year’s addition of the Rangers made the playoffs with a meagre 15 goals from their one true top line forward in Rick Nash. This team saw regression from Kevin Hayes, stagnation from Chris Kreider and squeezed out bigger minutes than should have been expected from the consistent but not a top six forward, Jesper Fast. And yet still, the team’s relative depth at least got them to the first round.
Evgeni Kuznetsov’s first full NHL regular season generated just 11 goals but he was already much more dangerous in his first go around in the playoffs. Kuznetsov has been allowed to grow on a talented Caps roster and the Rangers need to do the same with their own prized Russian prospect. Vigneault can afford to put him out on the ice and he will be seen to be developing an important prospect. If Buchnevich grows quickly (and even if he doesn’t) AV will help dispel the prospect ignorant accusations thrown in his direction.
Developing Buchnevich properly is a win-win-win scenario. The player gets better, the team benefits from it in a multitude of ways but so too does Alain Vigneault himself. Plenty riding on one prized prospect it seems. Plenty of reasons to give Buchnevich meaningful ice time.