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Breaking Down the Pavel Buchnevich Trade Using Analytics
The Blues find their Tarasenko replacement at a discount.
Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis
St. Louis receives: RW Pavel Buchnevich
New York Rangers receive: RW Sammy Blais, 2nd round pick
Pavel Buchnevich is a legit #1 right wing, an excellent driver of offence who is almost as good at preventing scoring chances against. He’s productive and well-rounded offensively, especially at 5v5, where his per-60 scoring has improved in each of the past three seasons. He’s most dangerous off the rush; according to Corey Sznajder’s manual tracking he finished second among Rangers players in rush chances per 60, producing those opportunities at a similar rate to Patrick Kane, Mathew Barzal, and Alex Barkov. One of the reasons that he did this is the tremendous progress he’s made when it comes to transition play. His rates of controlled entries and efficiency have improved in every year of his career so far, and he was excellent in that regard this season. While he’s not going to replace what Vladimir Tarasenko did in his prime, he will definitely make up for a lot of that lost skill on the right side.
So why did New York trade him? According to EvolvingHockey, Buchnevich is projected to receive a five-year contract as a restricted free agent worth $6.2M per year. He’s old for a restricted free agent at 26, which limited the Rangers’ ability to give him a bridge contract, and they clearly weren’t interested in paying him like a 70 point player. They just made a big investment in third line left wing Barclay Goodrow on a six-year $3.6M deal, signalling their focus on getting harder to play against in a physical sense. When a contending team invests in depth like that, they have to make sacrifices elsewhere, and Buchnevich looks like a casualty.
The loss of a player of Buchnevich’s calibre might be a little easier to swallow if they had gotten a promising piece like Robert Thomas or Jordan Kyrou in return, but that’s not what happened.
Sammy Blais is a good defence-first bottom six forward but the ceiling is pretty much that. At 25 there isn’t a lot of untapped offensive potential, and while he scored at an 18 goal pace this season that was a product of anomalous 25.8% shooting as opposed to a hidden sniper streak. One element of his game that I’m sure the Rangers like is his forechecking, which was a big feature of his game this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if New York sees him as a RW counterpoint to Goodrow.
All in all, I really do not like this for the Rangers. I would be a lot more sympathetic to the cap space issue had they not just signed Goodrow to what amounts to a luxury contract for a player with a third line ceiling. The effect that this move has on New York’s depth chart is not ideal; Buchnevich effectively insulated Kaapo Kakko from a first line role and filled out what looked to be a great top six moving forward. With him gone, Kakko and Vitali Kravstov, a prospect who scored four points in 20 NHL games last year, will essentially constitute a collective question mark on the right side for a team expected to contend for a playoff spot next season. That’s a lot of upside but not a lot assured, and with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad in their primes (not to mention Adam Fox with only one year remaining on his ELC), frankly the time to compete is a lot sooner than for most teams coming out of rebuilds. The Rangers still have quite a bit of cap space left, and they have the opportunity to compensate for this loss bigtime if they’re able to add a player like Jack Eichel, but it will not be easy to replace Pavel Buchnevich.