With the playoffs around the corner, much of the focus for the Rangers is on Alain Vigneault’s lineup choices. Much of the lineup is set. We know 11 of the 12 forwards. We know all six defensemen. But it’s that 12th forward that is drawing a lot of attention, and it’s an emotional topic for a lot of people.
Tanner Glass is the old-school, gritty hockey player that “stands up for teammates and deters others.” While we’ve seen others on the roster (Kreider, Vesey, Smith) step up for others, the focus is always on Glass because he represents a dying breed of hockey players. What he represents is the “blue collar” player. The one who throws his body around and gets in on the forecheck.
On the other side of the coin is Pavel Buchnevich. Buch is the prized rookie with seemingly unlimited skill. His production in the KHL and in his rookie season puts him on par with Evgeny Kuznetsov. That’s one helluva comparison and career trajectory. Now while it’s unlikely he gets to that level –he doesn’t get to play with Alex Ovechkin on a nightly basis– he can still come in under that and be a great player for the Rangers.
The school of thought here seems to have the fanbase divided into two camps. The first camp is to play Glass. The Rangers got physically abused by the Habs in the last matchup, and that is fresh in everyone’s minds. Those who prefer the old school style of hockey think that Glass is a necessary cog for the Rangers. He will hit people, forecheck, and go to the net. And yes, all of this is true. Plus, by most accounts, he’s a good locker room guy.
The second camp is the play Buchnevich camp. The NHL has moved to a speed and skill game, and the most successful teams this year (and last year’s Cup champion) were loaded with speed and skill. Buchnevich offers an immense amount of skill on the fourth line, something that provides matchup nightmares for the opposition. This is especially true of Montreal, a team that lacks depth. Plus, for the long-term future of the club, Buch’s development is critical.
There are obvious drawbacks to both camps as well. Glass, while offering that physical presence, doesn’t do much else. He’s not good with the puck and has minimal skill. He’s also not a good penalty killer and doesn’t play on the powerplay. Buchnevich is still a rookie and prone to mental mistakes. The kid hasn’t even been able to legally buy a beer in the States for a year yet. In the playoffs, every mistake can wind up in the back of your net.
If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know where I sit on this discussion. I think playing Buchnevich has far more value, both short term and long term, than playing Glass. I would certainly be able to lean more towards Glass if he contributed more than just a physical presence. In today’s NHL, a player needs to be more than one-dimensional. Even the best scorers can fake it in their own end.
The reality of the situation is that we are going to see both play this series. If Buchnevich gets Game One, and the Rangers get outplayed physically, we will see Glass. If Glass plays Game One and the Rangers can’t get anything going offensively, we will see Buchnevich. This roster decision, like life, lives in the grey area.