The New York Rangers began their offseason by trading Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Sammy Blais and a second-round pick. The move is a painful one, as Buchnevich had developed into one of the Rangers’ best wingers and was an integral member of the team. His rise was impressive and he deserves appreciation for his steady improvement with the Blueshirts.
Buchnevich’s Improvement with the Rangers
Despite not having a pick in the first two rounds of the 2013 NHL Draft, the Rangers were able to find talent as they drafted Buchnevich in the third round, with the No. 75 overall pick. The Russian winger played well in the KHL and showed impressive offensive upside. His skill earned him a spot in the Rangers’ lineup as a rookie during the 2016-17 season.
As a rookie, Buchnevich showed flashes of his offensive upside but at times wasn’t noticeable on the ice. He was frequently benched as then-head coach Alain Vigneault preferred to use fellow rookie Jimmy Vesey instead of Buchnevich. However, despite limited playing time Buchnevich still finished with 8 goals and 12 assists in 41 games as a rookie.
During the 2017-18 season, the Rangers announced they were beginning a rebuild and traded away many key players at the deadline including Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash and Michael Grabner. Those trades allowed Buchnevich to get more ice time, including on the power play.
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Buchnevich was noticeably stronger during the 2017-18 season and that led to improved play and a little more consistency. Too many times he struggled to finish off his scoring chances but he played well, made smart plays with the puck and became a mainstay in the Blueshirts’ lineup. He finished the season with 14 goals (5 on the power play) and 29 assists in 74 games.
During the 2018-19 season, Buchnevich established himself as one of New York’s top wingers. He moved from the left side to the right side to play on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider and though the Rangers struggled, Buchnevich continued to improve. He did a better job capitalizing on his scoring opportunities and scored a career-high 21 goals despite playing in only 64 games after missing time with a broken thumb.
Buchnevich’s Breakout Season and the Rangers Improved Play
The 2019-20 season was a big step in the right direction for the Rangers after they signed star winger Artemi Panarin as a free agent in the offseason. They were competitive for the first time in a few seasons and Buchnevich continued to improve his play. He got stronger and became one of the Rangers’ better forwards defensively.
At times, Buchnevich was snakebitten and struggled to put away scoring opportunities but he consistently created chances offensively and he scored a clutch game-tying goal with time running out in a game against the Colorado Avalanche. He finished the season with 16 goals and a then-career high of 46 points in 68 games before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the Rangers would go on to be swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in their qualifying series once play resumed, the season was a big step in the right direction.
The shortened 2020-21 season was a frustrating one for the Rangers but a great one for Buchnevich. Igor Shesterkin missed time with a groin injury, Panarin missed 14 games and Zibanejad had an extended slump; however, Buchnevich had a breakout season.
Former head coach David Quinn decided to play Buchnevich shorthanded and he became one of New York’s best penalty killers as he used his reach to get in passing lanes and block shots. He also formed excellent chemistry with Zibanejad and the two were able to repeatedly create scoring chances while shorthanded. Buchnevich ended up with three shorthanded goals.
Buchnevich also became a key member of the Rangers’ top power-play unit, which at times looked fantastic this season. He made quick decisions, often setting up Zibanejad in the slot and he finished the season with one goal and seven assists on the power play.
Throughout the season, Buchnevich was a steady force at both ends of the ice for the Rangers. He avoided going through slumps that had plagued him in previous seasons and ended with 20 goals and 28 assists in 54 games.
It will be difficult for the Rangers to replace Buchnevich, who was nicknamed “Captain Happy” for his serious demeanor. He played like a star last season and also played with an edge, which the Blueshirts will miss. On a team that was frequently criticized for not being physical or tough enough, he wasn’t afraid to go to the net or play with some physicality.
Over the course of Buchnevich’s time in New York, he developed into an excellent two-way winger. It’s sad to see him go, especially given the disappointing return in his trade, but Buchnevich deserves appreciation for the five seasons he has spent with the Rangers. The Blues are getting a very valuable player.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.