There are few players on the Rangers that divide the fan base almost in half. Dan Girardi was one for a while until his final year in New York. Kevin Shattenkirk appears to be one. Pavel Buchnevich is another.
Buchnevich, before the Rangers started the rebuild, was perhaps unfairly hyped by a lot of folks, myself included. With KHL numbers comparable to Evgeny Kuznetzov and Vlad Tarasenko, Buchnevich was viewed as a great prospect that, while not on the same level as those two, could be a top-line winger for the Rangers.
Buchnevich has bounced around the lineup in his first two full seasons, finally sticking in a top-six/top-nine role under David Quinn. Two seasons ago Buch put up 43 points, and last season he put up 21 goals. Last season especially was a “what if he were healthy” scenario, as Buchnevich put up those 21 goals (17 assists too) in just 64 games. That is an 82-game pace of 27-22-49. Do you look at him differently if he didn’t miss 18 games?
Fun fact: Buchnevich & Kreider were almost identical ages in their first 3 NHL seasons… pic.twitter.com/F1PSSovOte
— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) July 7, 2019
For some reason, Buchnevich is always compared unfavorably to Chris Kreider. I find this to be interesting, because both of them have had near identical starts to their careers. Not just in what HSM has provided above, but also in raw scoring and play type. If you recall, the major complaints about Kreider were that he was a “perimeter player” and he “didn’t use his size.” Now Kreider is the best net-front presence the Rangers have. Funny how time and development works, isn’t it?
However for Buchnevich, it looks like the “issue” goes beyond anything tangible on the ice. Sure, he’s not perfect, but he’s no generational talent either. He’s a middle-six forward, and a pretty solid one at that. If you knew nothing else about him, you’d be happy with his production. But there’s a bias towards “lazy Russians” and a preference for North American players. It’s the Don Cherry effect, and I see it in the comments here regularly. If Buchnevich were Canadian or American, he’d be a skilled middle-six winger. But this bias has existed for quite some time, and doesn’t just apply to Buch either.
I find it funny, though, that people seem to think he is expendable given the recent roster events – adding Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov. However no team goes far without scoring depth. Remember when the Rangers made their run to the Cup Final? Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello were two-thirds of the third line. I cannot stress this enough. Depth matters, and the Rangers will need more than Panarin, Kakko, and Kravtsov to provide scoring.
So when it comes to Buchnevich, the Rangers need the secondary scoring, especially while Kakko, Kravtsov, and other prospects continue to grow. Buchnevich’s 20 goals and 40 points are not easily replaced, especially at his RFA price of around $3 million.
Biased or not, Buchnevich has an important role with the club. He’s not as untouchable as the hype may have made him, but for $3 million he will provide 20 goals and 40 points. This is doubly true if the Rangers decide to part ways with Chris Kreider. Roster depth matters. As does giving the kids a cushion to grow and develop. Buchnevich provides both, and should continue his own growth as well, something the Rangers will need if they intend on being truly competitive in the years to come.