When the St. Louis Blues acquired Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers, there was little doubt the team was gaining a future star. Less than a year into the trade, his impact and the team’s reliance on the Russian forward is larger than anyone had anticipated, and will be more so in the future.
Buchnevich has played a key role in reviving Vladimir Tarasenko‘s career. After publicly requesting a trade, the front office needed a dynamic scoring forward to replace the Russian’s high-end scoring ability. However, the acquisition of Buchnevich may be one of the biggest reasons that the disgruntled forward is still with the organization. This season, Tarasenko has not only surpassed the 30-goal mark for the sixth time in his 10-year NHL career but has hit a new career-high in points with 79. Of Tarasenko’s 33 goals this season, Buchnevich has assisted on 17.
Buchnevich has also found chemistry with 22-year-old Robert Thomas as the line’s playmaking center. Together, this trio has formed one of the most impactful lines in the league. According to MoneyPuck.com, Tarasenko, Thomas, and Buchnevich have played 325 minutes together, the least of the NHL’s top 15 most productive line combinations. Yet, they have combined for 31 goals while producing the third-highest goals-for per 60 minutes (GF/60) rate of 5.72 behind the Toronto Maple Leafs’ line of Bunting-Matthews-Marner (6.52 GF/60), and the Colorado Avalanche’s line of Burakovsky-MacKinnon-Rantanen (6.17 GF/60).
After the team’s 6-5 overtime victory against the Minnesota Wild on April 16, Blues head coach Craig Berube was asked about Buchnevich’s play that allowed Brayden Schenn to score the game-winning goal: ”He was excellent tonight. I thought he was probably our best forward tonight. From just skating, making plays, being hard on pucks, penalty killing, all of that kind of stuff. He had a real good game.”
Buchnevich has provided a balance to the lineup that will allow the Blues to compete in the playoffs.
Future Impact of Buchnevich
Given the roster and the contracts of their forward core, the franchise is all but guaranteed a two-year window to compete for their next Stanley Cup. Their 23-man roster has only three forwards locked in for the 2023-24 season – Brandon Saad, Buchnevich, and Schenn. While Saad and Schenn should continue to contribute in different areas of the game, the 27-year-old Buchnevich will continue to be relied on to provide leadership and guidance to up-and-coming forwards like Jake Neighbours, Zach Bolduc, Nikita Alexandrov, and Klim Kostin. He will likely be leaned upon to help guide these younger players as they transition into full-time NHLers.
As a forward who worked his way up in the Rangers organization, he started his career averaging 13 to 15 minutes of time on ice and shuffled around the team’s lineup throughout his first three seasons. While the transition was not as smooth as some may have hoped for the Russian, persevered and soon saw an increase in his ice time and point production. He may be a viable option for the coaching staff to help mentor players like Kostin and Alexandrov who could have the potential to be impactful two-way weapons for the Blues in the future.
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General manager Doug Armstrong will no doubt sign key forwards such as Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou to long-term contract extensions soon. However, they could be expensive, and with the upcoming payday for goaltender Ville Husso and the annual $6 million cap hit for Jordan Binnington, the organization’s ability to re-sign everyone will be affected. The franchise may be tasked with the tough decision to part ways with beloved players and leaders to fit under the salary cap moving forward.
As proven in the past with Alex Pietrangelo and David Backes, Armstrong is not afraid to move on if he feels that contract negotiations and player salaries will cause his team to struggle financially. With several prime years left in Buchnevich’s career, the future impact on the team and his responsibility may become larger than anyone realizes. With only three years remaining on his contract, the Blues will need to take full advantage of his $5.9 million yearly cap hit and build upon the success he is having this season.