During the offseason, the rookie hype was primarily centered around Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, and Jesse Puljujärvi. Without the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes, there may have been no coverage at all of Rangers rookies. Little did the NHL know that the Rangers would have three first-year players who have been extremely solid in the first chunk of the 2016-17 NHL season. With Vesey, Brady Skjei, and Pavel Buchnevich all performing nightly when they’re in the lineup, these Rangers rookies have outdone everyone’s expectations so far this season.
Vesey Showing Spectacular Ability
Jimmy Vesey hasn’t played nearly as much as Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, or Mitchell Marner, but his statistical production has neared all of these highly-touted rookies. Vesey has scored seven times so far this year, which is tied with Marner for third place of any rookie behind only Matthews at eight and Laine with 12. Finding himself switched around on multiple different lines, Vesey has still been able to put up points with whoever he plays with.
The one thing that’s been most surprising is how mature Vesey has shown to be as a rookie who jumped directly from the NCAA with Harvard to the Rangers’ nightly roster. So far through 22 games, there is just one penalty on his resume. A good chunk of rookies constantly struggle and take unnecessary penalties, but Vesey has stayed off the penalty sheet and stayed disciplined in his first season as a Ranger.
Skjei Brings First Pairing Potential
So far this season, Brady Skjei looks incredibly poised as a Rangers defenseman. Through 22 games, Skjei has 11 assists and has received more and more time on the power play as well as the penalty kill as the year has progressed. Averaging 17 minutes of ice time per game as a rookie with limited experience shows that the coaches trust him, and Skjei has given them no reason not to so far this year.
Skjei has also launched himself near the top of the Rangers’ statistical leaders in both shot blocks and hits. On a team that’s generally not very physical, Skjei adds a big body that can play any style of hockey. This is extremely important for a hockey team that plans to compete in the playoffs. If Skjei can show his ability in extended minutes he may end up as one of the Rangers’ ice time leaders by the end of the year as a rookie.
Buchnevich Return Adds Another Threat
After dealing with back spasms for weeks and weeks, Pavel Buchnevich looks to come back and help the banged-up Rangers lineup get back to the scoring pace they started with at the beginning of the year. Buchnevich finally made his NHL debut earlier this year after spending the last three years in Russia between the Russian MHL and KHL. At 21, Buchnevich has scored four goals and added four assists in just ten games played. If he can come back strong and healthy, he could be in store for an absolutely monster year.
Although he only played under half of the 22 games the Rangers have played so far this year, Buchnevich was an important fixture on the power play. Buchnevich scored a goal and added two assists on the power play and was second of all Rangers forwards in power-play ice time. Getting Buchnevich back soon will bolster the power play that’s struggled recently and hopefully return the special teams back to the rate they were scoring at in October.
Rookie Contracts Give Gorton Flexibility
As long as rookies perform, the contracts they are playing on give Jeff Gorton cap flexibility. Skjei, Vesey, and Buchnevich are all playing on $925,000 contracts as is. With three performing roster players making less than a million dollars, there is much more ability for Gorton to add pieces that will help the team. Obviously, some contracts on the Rangers’ roster are bad, but the great value at which the rookies are paid counterbalances them, making the Rangers generally free of cap problems for the remainder of the year.