We’re all looking ahead to that second overall pick at this point I’m sure, but once upon a time Pavel Buchnevich was the Rangers’s most highly-touted prospect. He’s in the NHL now, and had a nice year, doing much better under David Quinn than he did under Alain Vigneault, and since it’s report card season and Dave just got the rest of the KZB line taken care of, it’s a fair play to complete the set and take a look back on Buch.
I’m going to get the numbers out of the way first, as well as introduce you guys to this new site called PuckIQ. It’s a nice new stats database and worth playing around with, so I figured I’d take it out for a spin. A neat feature is that you can filter by the types of competition a player faced and see how they fared against generalized talent tiers, but I’ve set it to “All” for the purposes of this. The other thing is that “Dangerous Fenwick” is roughly equivalent to other sites’ expected goals/xG metric. Anyways here goes.
Buchnevich had a raw CF% of 48.40% in 881.87 minutes of ice time this season, with the relative number being 3.30. In other words the Rangers weren’t especially good at controlling shot attempts for/against, but Buch was still better than the average Ranger was as far as being a part of 5-man units that took more shots than allowed. Along those lines he had Dangerous Fenwick for (expected goals for) percentage of 50.70%, and relative to his teammates was again above average at 3.40% (worth noting as well that per 60 minutes of ice time). He also hit that nice 21-goal mark, although oddly enough for a guy who was primarily hyped up as a playmaker he only had 17 assists. Keep in mind though that he played 64 games, which would translate to roughly 48 points total if he played every game.
There’s another small asterisk here, increasingly small as the days go by and likely to shrink further; his linemates and ice time were not always consistent, and when he was with good players for long stretches he rose to the occasion. You can look at this a couple of ways: he might just be a passenger, or it might just be he hasn’t grown into his full potential yet. It could be that he really really gets there next season, or that we find out he’s just a pretty good player who complements others nicely but can’t drive the bus all that far or fast. I leave this all up to you, but I’d just point out that not every player on a contending team needs to be excellent, and even if they are they can still get hosed in the playoffs in the strangest timelines (raise your hand if you had Tampa getting swept by Columbus, especially considering the way each of those teams performed after the deadline). Still though, I leave you to determine exactly where you fit Buch into that frame, although I will of course be dropping that final grade at the end.
More qualitatively though –and I think this speaks a lot to David Quinn’s exceptional job this year as coach– is he seems to be more confident, more scrappy, and more dominant in those moments when he actually is really feeling himself. More and more often this season I found myself thinking, “wow, smart play along the boards there by Buch,” or remarking to my dad or buddies that Buchnevich had been stringing together several exceptional shifts for most of a given period or even game. It seems fairly clear to me that this is Quinn’s doing. A guy like Buch won’t make the high risk/high reward play when he’s afraid he’s going to get benched the next shift for no articulable reason. They certainly wouldn’t run through a brick wall, or at the very least go into the corners with Victor Hedman, under such a pall of random decision making.
Perhaps the most telling moment of this season came when Buch was seemingly inexplicably scratched, and David Quinn was upfront about how he needed more from him and that they had discussed it in practice. When asked about it Buch fairly calmly stated the same thing: that he knew he needed to round out his game a bit, knew what to do, and planned on doing it. This, to me, is where 20 goals came from, and that speaks both to Buch and Quinn. It speaks to the way in which talent, hard work, and ice time seem to correspond more readily under David Quinn, and the way a guy like Buchnevich can fit into such a schematic with efficacy and agency.
I’ll say one thing to close. Buch was supposed to have a breakout season this year, with many people (including myself) feeling that it was do-or-die time. He sort of fell somewhere in the middle, at least at first blush. What I would say however is that Buch actually did have a breakout year, despite the relatively low point total, whether the actual number or the prorated 82-game pace. He had 21 goals as a 23-year-old winger who was still relatively up and down the lineup, on what was objectively the worst team of the Henrik Lundqvist era (the Rangers had the lowest ROW of any team in the NHL this past season despite the final standings, which were a little distorted due to the way the loser point works). To me, that’s a success, and to me it says that whether he’s playing consistent top-line minutes or he’s down on the third line in sheltered minutes because of some Finnish kid and maybe two other Russians, he’ll be an integral piece of the next contending Rangers team. It wasn’t standout work that he did this year, but Pavel Buchnevich certainly showed us that the best is yet to come. That’s pretty cool.
Final Grade: A-