The New York Rangers organization is no stranger to drafting players who end up fizzling out. There have been several occasions on which the Rangers drafted a player with the expectation that he’d be the next great player to shine under the lights of Madison Square Garden. At the start of the current decade, the Rangers drafted defenseman Dylan McIlrath hoping he’d become the next Dustin Byfuglien. He only played 36 games for the Rangers, fragmented over three seasons, scoring just four points while accumulating 77 penalty minutes.
Pavel Buchnevich has often had his name thrown into the ring as the next potential player to be categorized as a bust. Despite not quite showing the offensive prowess that was maybe expected of him yet, he is the farthest thing from being a bust.
Buchnevich Improving Under New Coach
Buchnevich’s play has flourished under new head coach David Quinn. While he has had his share of ups and downs during this roller coaster of a season, he has exemplified the ability to improve his play and feed off his own confidence.
Buchnevich was not drafted with the expectation of being a superstar. He was selected by the Rangers in the third round, 75th overall, but he brought about constant attention due his impressive play in the KHL. He posted numbers playing in that league that compared to those of current NHL stars Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and current Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov.
Because of this, he became one of the team’s most exciting prospects with among the highest expectations. He is not a 70 or 80-point scorer yet and may never be. But the important thing to remember is that he was a third-round pick, not a third-overall pick.
Last season, Buchnevich managed to post an impressive 43 points in his second season in the NHL. This is especially significant considering the tension that he and former Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault often experienced.
Vigneault was notorious for sticking young players, like Buchnevich, on lower lines and punishing them for just trying to find their way in the NHL. Well, at least that is how Buchnevich put it. He claimed that Vigneault often hindered the ability for personal growth, noting that he was afraid while on the ice because he knew how the coach would treat him if he made mistakes.
But he still managed to eclipse the 40-point mark in his second season. That brings us to this season, with a new coach and basically a new team.
The Rangers forward had scored only 11 points heading into the new calendar year, often experiencing scoring droughts. He would score a couple points in a two or three-game stint and then go silent for the next four or five. This left many questioning whether or not he really had the ability to continue to develop.
Finding His Game During Second Half of Season
But now, still with a month left to go in the season, Buchnevich has scored 18 points since Jan. 1. There was a stretch in mid-February during which he scored seven points over six games, recording points in all but one game.
He has also scored four points in the last six games, notching both of the Rangers goals in their shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings last week and their only goal in a loss to the Vancouver Canucks last night. With 12 games remaining until the conclusion of the regular season, he is poised to score a few more points and wind up with a number not too far off from last season’s total.
Many of Buchnevich’s improvements throughout this season have come at hands of Quinn. Yes, he had more points last season under Vigneault, but was also surrounded by far better players for much of it.
Buchnevich has been given the opportunity to work through his mistakes. He has been held accountable, but also given the freedom to explore his comfort level on the ice. He has shown more of an attempt to get to the dirty areas of the ice and experiment with new tactics.
Vigneault was an excellent coach for the Rangers, helping them become one of the best teams in the NHL over the course of his tenure. But that said, he was not efficient in his handling of young players like Buchnevich.
Some players are able to enter the league and make an immediate impact, like Connor McDavid or Rasmus Dahlin. But for those who are not able to do so, the task of finding an NHL identity can be daunting.
The last thing a young player needs as he works through his development is to be locked in a creative box and constantly put in the doghouse by his head coach. This season, Quinn has allowed Buchnevich to hone his skills on his own terms.
He has spent much of his career on the lower lines of the Rangers, but he finally is being given the shot to play as an upper-line contributor. And lately, he is showing he has the skill to do so. As the Rangers work through their aggressive rebuild, Buchnevich should continue to exemplify that his best is yet to come.