BY: CHRIS BOYLE
After the Rangers‘ exit from the 2015-16 NHL playoffs, there were concerns that the Cup window had closed.
When you go “all in” by trading future draft picks and prospects for deadline acquisitions like Keith Yandle, Eric Staal and Martin St. Louis, you require impact performances from unexpected sources.
The Rangers came up huge during the offseason with the discount acquisition of Michael Grabner and have received significant improvement from their youthful core of Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Derek Stepan and J.T. Miller. Offseason acquisition Mika Zibanejad has also provided timely contributions.
They have also received some much-needed production from top prospect Pavel Buchnevich.
His production isn’t shocking, but the Rangers couldn’t have realistically penciled in Buchnevich for a 60-point rookie campaign, his current pace. While he is shooting an absurd 18.8 percent, he is likely to have an above-average shooting percentage during his career because he isn’t a high-volume shooter. He puts himself in positions to receive the puck in high-leverage situations.
Buchnevich has been dominant at even strength and his expected goal totals are among the best on the Rangers. During his small 21-game sample, Buchnevich has been pushing the play at a 58.5 percent rate (expected goal totals are based on pre-shot movement and location) by dominating opposition defenders with an array of speed and slot-line manipulation.
The Rangers with Buchnevich on the ice move the puck at an elite rate. They utilize their speed to create constant movement which opens up passing lanes and empty spots to jump into for quality chances. Only 71 percent of their shots that occur are of the clear variety, significantly higher than the average output of 85.5 percent.
Their slot line and tipped opportunities are almost double that of an average unit and shots registered are consistently closer to the net with almost 30 percent of their shots occurring the high-danger area, a significant improvement over the typical 23 percent. These numbers are impressive for well-established superstars and provide a solid foundation for future production expectations.
Where we have to dig deeper is what he is and isn’t responsible for. When you play significant minutes with players of the caliber of Zibanejad and Kreider, we need to be sure that his success isn’t the result of being carried by his teammates. If we separate only the shots that Buchnevich is personally responsible for (individual shots, slot line passes the lead to a shot, tipped shots that originate from his stick or shots that generate a rebound shot), we see a player who is extremely selective with his opportunities and likely the biggest reason for his low shot totals this season.
The sample size is very small at this point in his career, but it is certainly promising for a productive offensive future. Buchnevich does not believe in high volume shooting. Almost 50 percent of the shots he contributes to involve pre-shot movement. He has delivered five slot-line feeds and received two, resulting in three goals. This type of deception is highly dangerous for opposition goaltenders.
He also manages to create these high-quality opportunities at a 40-percent rate in the high-danger area directly in front of the net. When we separate his success by teammates, we see results that indicate a player whose success can be attributed to his own play.
If Buchnevich was reliant on his teammates to drive the play, his individual output would be markedly inferior to the overall results and most of his positive differentials would only occur with true play-driving talent — something the Rangers have in abundance — like Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello and Kreider. The only player that he has not been able to carry to a positive differential this season is Kevin Klein. Every other position player has benefited from sharing the ice with Buchnevich in a positive manner.
It is clear that Buchnevich’s value is on the offensive end, but defensively, Buchnevich has been essentially league average. He does surrender slightly below average pre-shot movement totals (82.5 percent). Location wise, the Rangers surrender more exterior shots when he is on the ice (57.1 percent).
Buchnevich came into the league with a wide array of highly regarded offensive skills, but these type of skills don’t always equate to NHL success. The early data indicates that those skills should translate to a very productive NHL career. The Rangers would be wise to provide him with more offensive opportunity to see where his threshold lies.