Building off a breakthrough: Pavel Buchnevich

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

After selling off several veterans last season, stockpiling draft picks, and collecting a bunch of younger assets the New York Rangers’ rebuild is well underway.

One of the most important — and perhaps most intriguing — players for the short-term outlook could be 23-year-old forward Pavel Buchnevich, whose potential still seems to be a little unknown given the way he was used under the previous coaching staff.

The argument for him coming off of a “breakthrough” season is simple: he played his first full season in the NHL and saw a nice jump in his overall production, while also finishing as the team’s fourth-leading scorer. All good stuff, and a nice positive development.

The problem is the Rangers may not have gotten as much out of him as they could have.

Or should have.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Under Pressure | Three Questions

Throughout most of the season Buchnevich went through stretches where he would get lost in former coach Alain Vigneault’s line blender, and he never really seemed to get the benefit of the doubt from a coaching staff that seemed to favor older, more experienced (in other words, “safer”) players at the expense of younger, potentially more impactful talent. It was especially confusing early in the season when Buchnevich got off to a fantastic start offensively, recording 20 points in his first 25 games through the end of November. Despite that strong start things cooled off considerably (both in terms of ice-time and production) over the next couple of months before picking up again following the trade deadline when his role once again increased.

The one thing that consistently stood out about his season is that he usually managed to produce when he was given an opportunity.

His 1.77 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play placed him fourth among all Rangers that played at least 40 games for the team, while his 1.75 primary assists per 60 were tops on the team. He was also one of the best Rangers forwards when it came to generating shot attempts.

Was he a totally well-rounded player that didn’t make mistakes? No. He was and still is very much a work in progress. But there was still a lot to like about his season and the potential he showed, and given the Rangers’ struggles offensively he probably should have had more of an opportunity to make a bigger impact.

That is what makes this season under first-year coach David Quinn so interesting for Buchnevich and the Rangers.

Quinn comes to the Rangers with a reputation for being able to work with young players and develop their talent, and Buchnevich’s development should be a primary focus for him. Not only because the Rangers are going to need offense this season, but because they need to identify the next wave of talent this rebuild is going to be centered around. With Buchnevich entering the final year of his entry level contract they are going to have to make some sort of a financial commitment to him after this season and it would be nice to have a clearer idea of what exactly they have in him.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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