Rangers' Pavel Buchnevich finding his stride in first NHL season
TORONTO — Pavel Buchnevich poked his head out tentatively from behind a door separating a hungry pack of journalists and the safety of his teammates and various other team amenities. His New York Rangers had just beaten up on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buchnevich himself had contributed, burying a loose puck during a goalmouth scramble to give the Rangers a first period lead. The 21-year old NHL rookie’s eyes darted back and forth.
The team’s heavy hitters, including star goalie and winner of the Rangers post-game MVP Broadway hat Henrik Lundqvist were fielding questions from the media. “Why me?” he seemed to suggest.
The question could be answered rather easily: with the tally, Buchnevich had registered a point in his last eight games. Sure, the streak spanned two months as the speedy Russian recovered from a back injury, but in a season featuring one of the NHL’s most dazzling freshman classes ever, Buchnevich’s name hasn’t come close to being recognized with the likes of Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. If his pace keeps up (14 points in 14 NHL games), however, the demand for Buchnevich’s time may begin to increase throughout the NHL.
So there he sat, curled up in his stall in the Air Canada Centre’s visitor’s dressing room with his arms wrapped over his legs in a ball as two Russian journalists prodded him.
“If you miss two months of hockey, it's hard to get back to the NHL pace right away,” he told the two Russian journalists surrounding him. (Buchnevich’s English is limited and those two helpful scribes translated his answers.)
His point production would seem to suggest that it’s not the pace of hockey he has difficulty with in the NHL, but perhaps the regularity of interest from the media.
Drafted in the third round by the Rangers in 2013, Buchnevich spent the previous seasons of professional career in the KHL, mostly with Cherepovets Severstal.
When he entered the Rangers line-up at the start of this season, he logged two points in his first three games, then ripped off a four-game goal streak in early November before being sidelined by back spasms.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed and with all the hard work that he put in, we are hoping and we are confident that it will pay off,” coach Alain Vigneault said following Buchnevich’s conditioning stint in AHL Hartford.
Now, he’s reminding the league why the Rangers selected him in the first place.
“Obviously I need some time to be back in shape,” he said. “My legs get tired really fast, so sometimes I can not load them up completely. The All-Star break is coming soon so I'm planning to use this time to work on my legs and my conditions in general. Hopefully everything will be back to normal soon.”
That “normal” could very well be a first-line ceiling for the Rangers. With impressive speed and skill, Buchnevich has found chemistry with linemates Mika Zibenejad and Rick Nash. The trio has combined for 12 points in the Rangers’ last four games—Buchnevich has two goals and four assists in that span. If the Blueshirts want to continue as one of the best scoring teams in the league, Buchnevich and his linemates will be depended on.
“I played with Mika before, we understand each other pretty well,” said Buchnevich said of the Swedish center. “He helps me sometimes with a proper advice. He understands my English a little bit and I understand him too. If I don't, he will explain it again. Nash is the most experienced guy in our lineup, but he is very nice to me. Rick always supports me with whatever I need.”
It would appear that Buchnevich needs little help understanding how to score in the NHL. Just 14 games into his NHL career, it may be time for the rookie to stretch his legs out a bit and get comfortable with some extra attention off the ice, too.