Pavel Buchnevich made his debut for the New York Rangers in 2016, as a skinny winger with offensive upside. He spent much of his time that season as a healthy scratch but has steadily improved and developed into one of the team’s best forwards.
Buchnevich’s 2016-17 Season
Buchnevich played four games for the Hartford Wolf Pack in his first season in North America but spent the majority of his time with the Blueshirts. He managed to score a few highlight-reel goals but struggled to find playing time as the team fought for a playoff spot. He averaged just 13:16 in time on ice per game.
Then-head coach Alain Vigneault frequently benched Buchnevich for poor defensive coverage, unnecessary giveaways and struggles to win battles for loose pucks. He scored 8 goals and added 12 assists but played in just 41 of the Rangers’ regular-season games. He also played in just 5 of their 12 postseason games, tallying one assist.
Vigneault opted to use Jimmy Vesey, who was also a rookie, instead of Buchnevich. Vesey played in 80 regular-season games and all 12 postseason games.
Buchnevich’s 2017-18 Season
Buchnevich learned from his rookie mistakes and became more responsible in the defensive zone. That, along with the team’s struggles and eventual decision to rebuild, led to increased opportunities and playing time. He started playing on the Rangers’ top power-play unit and averaged 15:01 in time on ice per game.
Vigneault began to show more trust in Buchnevich. He had gotten better, while Vesey failed to improve after a decent rookie season.
While he still struggled in battles for loose pucks, Buchnevich used his playmaking ability and quick hands to excel on the power play. He finished the season with 14 goals and 29 assists in 74 games, with 5 goals and 12 assists on the power play.
While the Rangers failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2009-10, Buchnevich had a strong second season. He earned a bigger role on the team.
Buchnevich’s 2018-19 Season
David Quinn took over as the head coach of the team in 2018, so Buchnevich once again had to prove himself. He got stronger in the offseason and began to use his size more effectively. He did a better job winning battles for the puck and used his size to shield off opponents in order to keep possession of the puck. He finished the season with 60 hits. He had just 68 hits in his first two seasons combined.
Despite playing well at both ends of the ice, Buchnevich struggled to produce offensively upon returning from a broken thumb that caused him to miss five weeks. The injury kept him from getting into a rhythm for the majority of the season but once he did, he became one of the Blueshirts’ best offensive players. In his final 29 games of the season, he had 12 goals and 10 assists. He finished the season with 21 goals and 17 assists in 64 games.
Buchnevich’s 2019-20 Season
Buchnevich has continued to get stronger and has developed into a good defensive forward. He struggles with giveaways at times but has also become adept at playing in the trenches. He goes to the front of the net and consistently wins battles for pucks along the boards. This season he earned a spot alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the Rangers’ top line. He has averaged a career-high 16:56 in time on ice per game. He also has a career-high 80 hits.
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Buchnevich once again got off to a slow start offensively but has produced more as the season has gone on. In his last 21 games, he has 9 goals and 12 assists, giving him a total of 16 goals and 30 assists in 68 games this season. He scored a memorable game-tying goal against the Colorado Avalanche with 13 seconds remaining on Wednesday. It drew a rare smile from the winger, nicknamed “Captain Happy,” who is known for being serious on the ice.
Buchnevich has improved each year since making it to the NHL with the Rangers. He began as a rookie struggling to get ice time, and has now become one of the team’s best all-around forwards.
He is set to become a restricted free agent after next season. The Blueshirts have already signed wingers Kreider and Artemi Panarin to long-term contract extensions. If Buchnevich continues to improve next season, he can also earn an extension.
It’s clear that over his first four seasons “Captain Happy” has developed into a very important forward for the Rangers.