Pavel Buchnevich: international wing of mystery

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Photo via: Nhl.com

Established players are what they are — navigating a more or less steady decline as a comfort to the frazzled fantasy owner  who just wants to construct a roster already.  Draft Tyler Bozak and you can feel confident he go right on Bozaking: a 50 point, 150 shot year with an above average shooting percentage.  Then there are the rookies of whom anything can be believed.  Filip Zadina, drafted 6th by the Red Wings this year, has potential through the roof and no evidence yet to show he won’t achieve that potential.

Lastly come the guys on whom fantasy players dream big, but who haven’t posted big results, like Pavel Buchnevich. Buchnevich had the high potential tag on him from his 2013 debut in the KHL at the age of 17.  He was drafted in the 3rd round of the NHL draft that year by the Rangers.  He’s big — listed at 6’3″ and 196 pounds on his hockey-reference page.  The questions were about his defense and effort, not his talent or physique.  Reading descriptions of young Buchnevich is like looking up the term “Russian Factor” in the dictionary and checking for the player photo.

He is 23 now and has 126 NHL games (and counting) to his credit.  68 points thus far puts him on a 44-point pace for his career.  What is a dynasty player to think?  Is he a star ready to break out, or he could be showing his ceiling right now?  This is a point of a player’s career that presents a lot of variance for the fantasy player — you might be able to buy in before the breakout, or you might end up with shares of a player who never makes the jump and ends up frustrating by filling a roster spot for as years as you patiently hope the day will come.

Fantasy ranks are all over the board.  In his October 1 keeper skater rankings, Dobber had him 101st.  In Yahoo redraft pre-season ranks (all positions), he slotted 180th.  ESPN recently dropped him out of their top 250 players (all positions).  The more recent the take, the more likely to be negative.  On west coast road games on October 30 and November 1, Buchnevich was coach David Quinn’s healthy scratch while zero-points-in-ten-games Vinni Lettieri stepped in.  Healthy scratches are death on fantasy owners, so this situation warrants close observation.  Still, dynasty owners should look past a couple of healthy scratches.  What’s under the hood?

One way to make the best use of an offense-only player is to specialize him on the power play.  This year and last year combined, Buchnevich has played the 3rd most minutes on New York’s power play but only the 12th most at even strength.   Unfortunately, a look at Buchnevich’s individual power play demonstrate that trust in him has yet to pay off.  Corsi, team goals per opportunity, and most other stats put Buchnevich definitively in the middle of NHL power play players on a middle-of-the-road Rangers power play.

An article from March by Phil Kocher in The Hockey Writers made some interesting points about the 2017-18 season.  Buchnevich’s on-ice skills have developed more rapidly than his language skills. That’s no insult — anyone who has learned a language as an adult should appreciate the challenge of going to a new country (or countries).  Even fewer of us have undertaken this challenge while also trying to adjust to playing a sport at the highest professional level.  Last year in New York, there were no Russian players on the roster to help until the trade deadline, when Vladislav Namestikov arrived in trade from Tampa Bay. 

According to Kocher, Chris Kreider speaks a bit of Russian.  Whatever he was saying to Buchnevich last year seemed to have worked.

Situation Minutes Corsi for% High Danger    Corsi For% On-ice shooting percentage
Buchnevich with Kreider 428 52.8% 57.4% 5.8%
Buchnevich without Kreider 589 44.5% 43.3% 8.4%
Kreider without Buchnevich 472 49.3% 53.7% 10%

Since taking over this year, Quinn has played the two together less.  Buchnevich has played 43.45 minutes with Kreider, 102.09 without.  Just as with last year, the stats for the two combined than for either separated.  The good news is the two are more frequently paired on the power play.

It’s important to note that Buchnevich’s two-year stats have been put up on a fairly lousy Rangers team.  Last year his team finished 34-39-9 and was outscored 268-231.  That means the Rangers were frequently playing catch-up, and research on score effects shows that teams playing from behind tend to take more shot attempts.  Luckily, sites like Natural Stat Trick will adjust for both statistical variance between recorded stats at arenas and score effects.  Once you do, things look worse for Pavel.  Looking at all 377 players who have played at least 1000 minutes between this year and last, adjusted for score, he ranks 327th in Corsi percentage for.  Of the 50 players ranked below him, only two have a better offensive zone start percentage than his 55.3%.

Potential is a funny thing.  It can over-inflate expectations and cause fans to lose track of what a player already does well.  Pavel Buchnevich is a top-6, offense-first player on a very bad team who might or might not stick as a top-6 player on a much better team. If he can’t stick, he needs to find an opportunity to play more sheltered minutes on a lower line. Evidence to date does not point to an obvious breakout coming.  I have no doubt he’ll be good, but I also suspect there is someone in your dynasty league who has faith he’ll be a lot more than that.  Find her/him and see if you can get something even better.

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