GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) Pavel Buchnevich is ready to play for the New York Rangers.
The 21-year-old Russian left wing believes it and so do the Rangers. It’s why he is attending the team’s prospects camp this week at their Westchester practice rink.
A year ago, it was a different story. Buchnevich wasn’t so sure. His body needed to mature for the grind of the NHL and so did his game.
After splitting the past season in the KHL at Severstal Cherepovets and SKA St. Petersburg, Buchnevich is a confident young man. He had 16 goals and 21 assists in 58 games, establishing KHL career-highs in games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals (three), power play goals (four), and average ice time (16:10).
Among KHL players 24-years-old or younger, Buchnevich ranked third in assists, ranked fourth in points, and tied for seventh in goals. The numbers were impressive enough to earn the 2013 third-round draft pick a three-year entry level contract.
“He is going to get every chance to show he does not belong,” Gordie Clark, the team’s director of player personnel, said this week before Buchnevich took the ice for an afternoon session.
Buchnevich looked smooth during the workout Tuesday. He skated easily, handled the skills drills well and wasn’t shy putting the puck on the net.
He has a lot to learn. He does not speak English. He relies on hand signals from his teammates and occasionally gets help from defenseman Sergei Zborivsky, a fellow Russian and third-round draft pick in 2015.
The hockey is hockey, though.
“If I weren’t sure, I wouldn’t come here,” Buchnevich said through interpreter Nickolai Bobrov, the Rangers’ director of European scouting.
Clark had wanted Buchnevich to attend the prospects camp last year but he stayed home.
“I felt the age was a bit different, even at 20 it’s still considered to be young,” Buchnevich said. “I felt I needed the time to physically get prepared in Cherepovets and SKA St. Pete’s and get more experience and get older.”
Getting used to the more physical NHL game and the smaller rinks will be an adjustments.
“Obviously a physical game, there is less space and less time to make decisions, less space and less time to make plays,” said Buchnevich, who played for former Devils Ilya Kovalchuk in SKA St. Petersburg. The two exchanged text messages after he signed with the Rangers.
Playing in smaller rinks should increase his scoring chances.
Buchnevich seemed to laugh when asked whether he was a scorer or a two-way player.
“I think I am not quite a goal scorer,” he said. “I may be, but I’m a thinking player, a cerebral player, a playmaker.”
The next five months will give an indication. Buchnevich plans to stay in the United States for most of the summer and return from for 10 days before getting ready for training camp.
Buchnevich represented Russia at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2014 and 2015, scoring three goals and 10 assists in 14 contests.