Midseason Report Card: The Bottom Six Forwards

pavel buchnevich

The Rangers have hit the midseason point of the year, and have a perfectly timed bye week to celebrate. I say it is perfectly times because it gives us a chance to do all the report cards before the Rangers play another game. Rob did the top-six forwards on Saturday, I covered coaching earlier in the week, and now it’s time for the bottom-six forwards.

The Rangers have had a whole lot of players in the bottom six. But given who Rob covered in his post, let’s limit the bottom-six to the guys that he didn’t cover. I think that makes sense, right?

Kevin Hayes – Yes Hayes is considered a bottom-six forward this season. He’s been tasked with being the new shutdown center, and he’s been low-key very good in this role. He’s improved significantly on face offs, something that has also flown under the radar. The problem that many will have with Hayes is that he’s only put up 9-8-17 this season. That puts him in a tie for eighth on the club with Jesper Fast and Rick Nash. That said, he’s also starting 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone, down from 60% in his first two seasons. He’s the matchup center now, drawing top competition. Grade: B.

Jesper Fast – I love Fast as a Ranger. I loathe the way Alain Vigneault deploys him, though. Fast is a tremendous bottom-six forward. Skilled, smart, and calm with the puck, he makes the small plays that lead to goals. When Fast is in the bottom-six, you get a two-way player who can skate and generate offense. He’s also the only forward on the roster with fewer offensive zone starts than Hayes. At 7-10-17 for the year, he’s been better than expected. Grade: A.

Michael Grabner – Remember when Grabner was supposed to regress? He wasn’t going to continue shooting 900%, right? Yea…about that. Grabner leads the team in goals with 18, is a constant threat on the penalty kill, and has found chemistry with basically every forward he’s played with. And he’s done all that with 42% OZ starts. Quite the bargain for $1.6 million. Grade: A.

Jimmy Vesey – What you see with Vesey is what you get. He’s a guy that will go to the dirty areas, and he’s probably the most feistiest Ranger not named Zuccarello. Vesey is one of the few that you can expect to give 100% every game, which has been a problem for a bunch of guys on this roster lately. He’s also been much better this year away from the puck, improving his xGF% by a full four percentage points. He’s another guy like Fast, who you love to have in your bottom-six. At 9-7-16, he’s in the same mold as Fast as well. Grade: B+

Boo Nieves – When Nieves was called up, most of us said “about time.” His presence really stabilized the fourth line, probably because he’s an actual center playing the center position. Novel concept. Nieves hasn’t been a scoring machine (1-8-9), but he’s been steady and has found great chemistry with Fast and Paul Carey. Interesting fact: Nieves and Hayes are the only two Rangers with an xGF% over 50% in the bottom six. Grade: B+

Paul Carey – What a story Carey has been this year. The 29-year-old journeyman AHLer has found a nice niche with Nieves and Fast, putting up 5-5-10 in 30 games and forming a surprisingly dangerous fourth line. With Carey, my concern is his ability to keep it up. There’s a reason why he is a career AHL journeyman. He’s been a tremendous story, I hope he keeps it up. Grade: A-.

Pavel Buchnevich – BONUS TIME! Buchnevich has seen a whole bunch of games in the bottom six, and I’m a little bit of a troll, so why not! Buch has had some lapses in his game, but he’s still the third highest scorer on the team. He clicked with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider to form a lethal top line and top powerplay unit. He’s not perfect, but he’s progressing along the same lines as the other talented Russians to make their mark on the NHL. Grade: B.

Show More
  • I would go higher on Hayes. Everyone is getting their panties in a bunch over his stat line but that’s not his role this season. His role is to matchup against the other teams top lines. And let’s be honest when you look at the lineup he is the only choice. So he has excelled in this new role and made life hell for other teams.

    • While agree with you, not taking a shot on breakaways is really unacceptable, no matter what his role is.

      And there are other instances where he doesn’t shoot either. But that’s a problem with the whole team.

      They were scoring as a team because their shooting %s were high and at a time of the year where defenses play more loosely. Now it gets serious this time of the year and shooting % regression is a b-tch.

      • And Rick Nash has 2 in his last 23 games. Haven’t noticed that overrated, overpaid popgun wrist-shooting player dropping out of AV’s favor. See how this works yet? If you’re young & Russian, there’s a punishment for non-performance. If you’re a vet who’s Canadian, there are no punishments for lack of performance.

        • MC-

          Seriously? You’re going to bring ethnicity into this now in order to dump on AV? Come on, you can do better than that!

          That’s old school Don Cherry nonsense that doesn’t apply in the modern NHL—a league that is more internationally diverse than any other. No NHL team could possibly operate that way today.

          There is no evidence that any decision that this coach has made has anything at all to do with ethnicity. None whatsoever. ZERO. NADA. And if you do honestly believe this nonsense, than you do realize that you are also, by extension, damning Sather, Gorton and the entire Rangers organization as well.

          Why would Gorton (and Sather) hire a coach who is biased against Russians and hates young players? Not only hire him…but extend him and give him a massive raise? In what bizarro universe does that happen, especially when you draft Buch shortly after AV was hired, you grow him in the organization, and on top of that you are making the team younger? What you are describing what would be the single most dysfunctional organzaition in the history of sports if this were actually true. And it would mean that AV is the least of our problems if the Rangers were run by a group of Russian hating Neanderthals who also have little tolerance for young players, (even though they are making their team younger and signing Russians—one of which is on the team and the other is likely Hank’s successor!).

          BTW, I saw your argument a few weeks back that AV has had very few Russian players, and that’s what you are basing this on. But that’s circumstantial eveidence at best. Are you trying to say that ANYONE who doesnt have a certain ethnic group employed for them automatically has something against that group? That’s quite a stretch!

          AV doesn’t acquire the players. Gorton does. I’d take up your beef with him, silly as it is.

          BTW, not for nothing, check out Carpiniello recent column…..

          “So, Vigneault scratches Pavel Buchnevich in Vegas. A young highly-skilled player (whom the coach loves, by the way), still learning the non-offensive parts of the game, takes a seat after a couple of games of having difficulties with puck management, etc., for a match against a fast, counter-attack team? Gee, that’s never happened before.”

          Agree with Carp or not, but here’s an insider who knows the dynamics of the team, and who went out of his way to say AV loves the guy. So call me crazy, I think I’ll go with his take on this absent any evidence to the contrary.

          If this was an anti-Russian thing, then explain to me why Miller and Hayes were also given a short leash early in their careers here? Isn’t this more about AV being tougher on younger players than on vets, regardless of their ethnic background?

          I dont normally do this, because I’m not that interesting. But I’m going to re-post something I posted the other day on this subject that might give you and other critics some pause for thought. Take a close look at the ATOI for some other recent up and coming young Russian players in other organizations.

          “Buch has NOT been good for quite some time. He has earned no leash, no benefit of the doubt. He’s 2-4-6 since 12/1. He has been practically invisible in most games I’ve seen. Why would any sane coach want to give a young player who’s NOT producing even more ice time? To simply extend the amount of time he’s non-productive out there? He has richly earned his reduction in ice time and earned his place in the press box…and I will point out, this is the only game all season he’s been scratched. ONE game. And of course, we have to make a federal case out of it and compare AV benching Buch as if this were Cooper benching Kucherov…you know…a young up and coming star who, I don’t know, actually IS a star!

          “Indeed, take a look at three other young Russians and look at their ATOI when they started their careers—

          Year 1. Year 2

          Tarasenko. 13:25. 15:10
          Kuznetsov. 13:28. 13:20
          Kucherov. 13:07. 14:57

          Buchnevich. 13:16. 14:44

          “Now, full disclosure, Kuznetsov and Kucherov’s year one numbers have to be looked at with the understanding that they only played a handful of games. But the pattern is clear. This is not an “AV thing”. It takes time for young players to get it, even immensely talented young players. And I’m sorry, while I like Buch, to me, I doubt seriously he will have a career that is anything close to those guys mentioned. So why does he deserve more playing time than those legit stars got when they came up?“

          So MC, in summary, this is NOT about some silly argument that “AV hates Russians”. This is about two things—

          1) AV (along with Hitch, Trotz and Cooper as illustrated above) choosing NOT to rush young players along too quickly, which is hardly an unusual approach here.

          2) AV being tougher on young players with no real track record compared to seasoned vets with a track record that he trusts—again, very typical of many coaches.

          If you want to make the case that AV is tougher on young players than veterans, I’d say you’d have a good one. But the anti-Russian thing? Holy cow! Sorry my friend, that’s WAY out there into nonsense land.

          • He did make that case. You really read too far into it.

            At no time did he say av was hating on buch because he was Russian. Young and Russian. That clause is an and and requires both to be true. It’s called logic.

            Your caustic posts are no longer worthy of even reading. He actually provided a very valid argument.

            If Your young you get benched. If your a vet you get to keep playin despite sucking. Something he is historically known for and a main reason he was fired in Vancouver.

            Your arguments are lacking substance and proof.

            As an example , buch being invisible. Check his fancy stats he has been anything but that at even strength.

            Of course you wouldn’t know that because you posted without even looking.

            But that’s wha type expect when people talk out of their butts constantly.

            **drops mic**

          • Oh I am so saddened. You won’t be reading me anymore. What in the world will I do? 🙂

            My my…..aren’t we just a bit testy today? Whatever.

            As for what MC meant, I’ll let him speak for himself. But seems to me there was ZERO reason to bring ethnicity into this discussion. Why not just limit it to young players vs veterans? That’s a more valid point, is it not? The Russian component is totally irrelevant—unless I missed the press release that says that Miller and Hayes are actually Russians and not Americans.

            AV was fired in Vancouver because his time was up (like just about every coach’s time comes up), and he was unable to grow the young “talent” that Gillis drafted…talent that turned out not to be very talented at all. Many columnists said it was AV who was the fall guy for Gillis bad drafting. A year later, Gillis was canned, and he’s likely done permanently as a GM. That’s how bad he wrecked the Canucks.

            As for fancy stats, I’m just curious, are these the same fancy stats that also said that AV was wrong for not playing future minor leaguers Clendening and McIlrath more? As was proven in those instances, those stats only tell part of the story, and obviously, in the wrong hands (perhaps check your own “hands”?) can lead to improper, distorted and over the top conclusions about certain players.

            And I find it throughly interesting that you didn’t even comment on the fact that Buch’s usage is not all that different than Tarasenko, Kuznetsov and Kucherov at a similar point in their development. Is that not a valid counterpoint? But of course, why bother commenting on that when it much easier to just spew nonsense.

            As far as “dropping the mic”, ummmm…pretty lame mic drop if you ask me. Maybe try again and see if you can do better this time? 🙂

          • E3 – There is a difference between “play the kid to see what he has” and “play the kid because he’s amazing.”

            Clendo (whom Chicago just traded for, btw) and McIlrath were a case of the former. Plus there is significant evidence they would have fared better than Staal, Girardi, Holden, and Klein.

            Buchnevich is a case of the latter. The kid is a stud.

          • Dave-

            Very true and reasonable on the different classifications here.

            On the former though, I have to disagree. I would say there were “indications”, based on some data, that might lead one to that conclusion. But there was no slam dunk evidence at all. Indeed, what has happened with the league-wide assessment of Clendo, McIlrath and Girardi since they left here totally validates AV’s decisions IMO. I dont think you can really fault AV for those decisions or suggest that a different coach would have made different decisions when McIlrath was waived three times and was not claimed by a single team, and Clendo was signed by the new age thinking GM in Arizona, then was shipped to the the minors in short order because he couldn’t make it on the worst team in the league. Yes, Chicago acquired him, but that may have been as much to balance out the salary exchange on the deal. And he’s heading for Rockford, not Chicago. This guy should never buy a house, given how quickly teams are willing to move on from him!

            Meanwhile Girardi, who everyone blasted out here, was signed to a significant deal and is playing important minutes for the best team in hockey. I think that THAT is the evidence that shows pretty clearly that AV not only made the correct decision, but that if we had a different coach, that person likely reaches the same conclusion as well.

            And no, I don’t at all believe that most if any GM/coaches would conclude that minor leaguers no one wants would be viewed as better options than Holden or Staal. Klein perhaps at the very end, but by then, AV didnt play him much either.

            As for Buch, I’m a little skeptical as to whether he will be a “stud” or not. He could be another overrated “star” like Miller and Hayes (and weren’t we killing AV for not playing those “saviors” more?). But lets assume and hope you are correct. What is wrong with AV’s patient approach here when that approach seemed to work just fine for the likes of Tarasenko, Kuznetsov and Kuchverov, all of whom saw limited ice time in their first couple of seasons? Hitch, Trotz and Cooper handled those guys much the same way AV is handling Buch, who has played a sum total of 82 NHL games thus far.

            Maybe he will be a stud one day, but as those other succesful examples show, bringing him a long step by step might well be the better way for him to eventually be that.

          • Buchnevich is the first young Russian roster player AV has had since his days in Montreal. Facts are facts. He shouldn’t have been scratched, there’s a number of players playing equally poorly among the forwards. And even in his slump Buchnevich has still been solid at 5-on-5. Facts are facts: Buchnevich doesn’t deserve to be scratched for anyone in this group of forwards, and now with Kreider and Hayes hurt he most definitely should be playing in this team’s top 6. Why isn’t he? It’s a worthy question.

            When I mention Buchnevich’s ethnicity in relation to Vigneault, it’s not meant to call Vigneault a racist; but rather to show that he views all young players as difficult. the adjustments ANY young player must make in terms of life in the NHL are not easy, and that gets multiplied by 100 when talking about adjusting to a new culture as Europeans do. For whatever reason, Vigneault doesn’t want to put up with this personal development stuff with young players. It’s a trait that has followed him wherever he’s gone. He’d rather have a mature adult than a developing kid, especially a kid from a Central European culture. Only problem is that when most hockey players are 30 or older they’re usually headed on a downward trajectory in terms of performance. It’s a young man’s game now, more than ever, and it’s a shame our coach refuses to see this point.

          • But again……

            Why bring up the Russian component at all? It is irrelevant to your argument and makes it appear that you are suggesting that ethnicity plays into this decision…when there is no evidence to back that up. Indeed, his past usage of Miller, Hayes (two Americans) and McIlrath (a Canadian) pretty much shows that he is an equal opportunity “offender” when it comes to young players, does it not?

            Why did you fail to comment on usages by other coaches with their young Russian stars? I’ve presented above comparisons to other young players who seemed to get the same ATOI. Did those coaches have an issue with young players as well? Or is this pretty much SOP when it comes to the development of young players for many NHL coaches?

            In addition, there have been several articles from outside NY criticizing several other coaches for doing exactly the same thing with their players…..suggesting coaches like Trotz, Weight, Hakstol, McLellan, Q, Babs and others don’t give enough leash to young players, shuffle lines too much, etc. Sounds familiar?

            My argument here is not whether AV gives a longer leash to seasoned vets that he trusts. He most certainly does. We agree on that. But where we disagree is your seeming contention that this is uniquely an “AV thing”, as you and other seem to imply. There is no evidence at all that this is true, and plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite is in fact true.

            Your serve, MC! 🙂

          • Again, I brought it up to show that Buchnevich’s Russian-ness makes the already difficult NHL adjustment period that much more complicated—language barrier, culture shock etc. And that’s exactly what Vigneault doesn’t want to deal with—more adjustments, more complications—despite the fact that it’s in the team’s best interest to develop Buchnevich. Guys like Barzal, Boeser, McAvoy—Vigneault would staple them to the bench too, I’m sure. It’s all part of a mysterious process.

          • The other Russians I mentioned on other teams….guys who are actually legit stars as opposed to our maybe future star. Any comment on that?

            Here’s an interesting nugget by a sportswriter you might find interesting. I’m hiding the names involved to just for fun for the moment….

            “That’s led to some muted grumbling about coach___________. There’s an easy narrative here: The _________ were winning playing end-to-end pond hockey until their coach came along and squeezed all the fun out of them, and now they’re dull and mediocre. That feels a little too easy — __________ defensive system probably isn’t telling them to give up 40 shots a night.

            But at the very least, some of ________ lineup decisions are fair game for questioning. The current flashpoint is __________the 30-year-old winger with just one point at even strength on the year(excluding empty netters) who nevertheless keeps getting more ice time than just about all the forwards. Meanwhile, guys like __________ watch from the bench. That’s going to get noticed.”

            Care to fill in the blanks here? Hint…it’s Not AV, the Rangers or Rangers punching bag player du jour.

          • Colin Campbell was the same wit French Canadian players. And, he stunk as a coach also.

      • Tyler Johnson at one point earlier this year had 2 goals in a 20 game stretch. Guess he is really trash, then!

        • So Buch is now comparable to Tyler Johnson. Seriously?

          Overrating our “elite beasts” again, Eg? 🙂

      • Trying to sell corn to a farmer in Iowa is akin to putting Buch on the 4th line thinking he’s going to get the most out of his offensive talent.

        • Or sometimes, that ineffective lazy Iowa farmer needs a good kick in his overalls to remind him that it takes hard work to be successful, and that nothing can or should just be handed to you. 🙂

          Did you notice my post on comparable minutes for other young developing stars on other teams? Any comment?

          • Yep I read it, well done.

            Again, my issue is not benching Buch, it’s not benching others when the team craps the bed.

            Maybe Buch deserves it. Ok, no problem, but there’s been too many other opportunities to bench players and it doesn’t happen. It just seems to be the same couple of players over and over. That’s my issue.

        • Depends on which metrics you look at. He’s been pretty darn brutal in some areas. Not a complete and full dumpster fire though, no.

          • he’s had his poor moments like the rest of the team…but for a bargain bin signing, he’s done more good than bad to justify the price tag…

          • Everyone just loves dumping on DD and Carey. Bottom line, relative to their contracts certainly, both guys have FAR exceeded expectations. Of course, no one out here will credit the coaching staff for that.

            Player plays well—it’s because of the player in spite of the coach.

            Buch struggles (or last year Miller, Hayes, Kreider disappear and cost us a chance to advance)—that will always be on the coach and NEVER on the player.

          • I really have nothing against those players, I just think we have better players than them to play.

            They both try real hard, no question, but effort alone should not be the single factor for playing time.

          • True, but players that are either unwilling (in the past with Miller) or unable (in the past with Hayes) to give the needed effort or guys still learning the game who still have a substantial learning curve to overcome (Buch and Lettieri) might not be better options at the moment. What’s wrong with making them hungry and setting a high bar for them until they are ready to supplant place holder types like DD and Carey?

          • I think the problem with young players is the frustration level.

            True, this is the big leagues and they need to put their big boy pants on and suck it up. But favoritism tends to divide a locker room and that’s when the coach loses the room.

            The football Giants are a perfect example of the coach losing control and his job. I’m not saying the Rangers are any where near that mess but AV being here for 5 years causes the message to get stale.

  • Wasn’t Jimmy Vesey supposed to be better than “on the same plane with Jesper Fast” when he signed? I remember there being a ton of hype for him and also Kevin Hayes.

  • Back to top button