One of the many gripes with Alain Vigneault last season was his usage of talented Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich. This continued into the 2017-18 season, and was a factor in the New York Rangers’ disastrous season.
Young Russian talent Pavel Buchnevich is one of the players that should make New York Rangers fans excited for the future. He has elite, top-line potential, which is pretty evident. But, former Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t seem to feel the same way.
In 2016-17, Buchnevich’s rookie season, he started the season on a top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. His talent was made evident from his first career game, where he sprung Chris Kreider with an absolutely gorgeous stretch pass for a breakaway, which Kreider wound up scoring on. Buchnevich scored his first goal on November 5th, 2016, against the Boston Bruins.
Then he suffered a back injury that kept him sidelined for a few months. When he came back, he struggled to find consistency. Vigneault decided to place him on the fourth line, where he spent a lot of time for the rest of the season. Buchnevich was even a healthy scratch for the first few games of the playoffs.
This season was no different, as Vigneault seemed to constantly scapegoat Buchnevich. He would do this by dropping him to the fourth line seemingly on a whim. Buchnevich finished the season with 14 goals and 29 assist for 43 points, good for fourth on the team.
While Buchnevich’s deployment obviously wasn’t the undoing of this team, it certainly didn’t help. There are a few reasons that Buchnevich’s demotions to the fourth line hurt the team as a whole.
Lack of offense
The New York Rangers, as a whole, didn’t really have much trouble scoring this season. But, in games when they did, it probably wasn’t the best idea to play one of their top young, offensive talents with the likes of David Desharnais, Paul Carey, and Cody McLeod, right? Well, Vigneault thought otherwise. He would constantly play Buchnevich down in the lineup, and elevate other players, known more for playing defensive roles, such as Jesper Fast, to the top pair.
Now, this isn’t to say that Fast didn’t play well when on the top line. To the contrary, he played some of the best hockey of his career with Kreider and Zibanejad. Rather, the issue is that a talented youngster like Buchnevich shouldn’t have to suffer because of it.
Logic states that when you’re having trouble scoring, you should be giving your offensively inclined players more ice time. The next Rangers head coach, whomever that may be, would be wise to do that.
Inability to create chemistry with linemates
When Buchnevich played with Kreider and Zibanejad, the chemistry was obvious and undeniable. The three players seemed to just gel very well with each other. The KZB line was often broken up at the first sign of trouble.
Breaking up lines at the drop of a hat like this is often not the best idea, as it can hurt a young player’s development and rob him of the ability to develop consistent chemistry with his linemates.
On the flip side, playing Buchnevich with players who are much less offensively inclined, such as Paul Carey, or players who are just downright inept (looking at you, Cody McLeod) didn’t help him.
If a coach sees that a line has a lot of chemistry, and is producing, he shouldn’t meddle with it unless absolutely necessary.
Forcing Buchnevich to play a bottom-six role definitely played a role in the Rangers’ disastrous 2017-18 season.
Now, there is a silver lining to these two issues. They both occurred under Vigneault, now the former head coach of the New York Rangers.
Bringing in a new coach (*cough Sheldon Keefe cough*) who can develop young players and let them play should help unlock Buchnevich’s full potential. Even though Buchnevich was bounced around the lineup all season long, he still did a very good job on building upon last season, more than doubling his point total from 2016-17.
A new coaching staff, who develops young players and lets them make mistakes, will be crucial to bringing out Buchnevich’s best. He has 60-70 point potential, and if the coach plays him with consistent linemates (Kreider, Zibanejad) we should see him hit it sooner rather than later.