Buchnevich doesn’t belong in AHL


After making a statement scoring twice including the overtime winner for Hartford Wednesday, it’s time for Pavel Buchnevich to play in a top nine role for the Rangers, who are without Jesper Fast for at least two weeks. 

With the Rangers needing to make room for recently acquired defenseman Brendan Smith and being down to five D last night due to the ex-Red Wing traveling, they sent down Pavel Buchnevich to Hartford and recalled Steven Kampfer. It predictably didn’t work with Kampfer finishing minus-two with three blocked shots in a lopsided 4-1 home defeat to the Capitals. He was only responsible for Marcus Johansson’s second goal on a beauty of a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov.

As fate would have it, Jesper Fast went down with a separated shoulder on a vicious but clean hit delivered from Russian missile Alexander Ovechkin. The hard working Swede is expected to miss between two to three weeks. With Brandon Pirri struggling to reestablish himself since coach Alain Vigneault reinserted him for Buchnevich, the 21-year old Russian rookie made a point in today’s Hartford 4-3 overtime win over Springfield.

He scored twice including the OT winner on a power play and added an assist going for three points to lead the Wolf Pack to a victory. Buchnevich recorded five shots and finished plus-one. Kampfer, who was reassigned, tallied three assists. Nicklas Jensen and Adam Tambellini each recorded two assists. Brandon Halverson made 26 saves.

But the focus is on Buchnevich, who just doesn’t belong in the AHL. In an earlier stint back in January during a break, he had a goal and assist. He’s 3-2-5 in four games with Hartford. There’s no reason for him to be in the ‘A.’ He proved it.

It’s easy to forget that he was a point-per-game player when teamed with Mika Zibanejad, who’s looked lost since Buchnevich was taken off his line. It’s past time Vigneault adjusts the lines that haven’t been working. You can’t have Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello with Zibanejad because none of the three are good enough defensively. Why he broke up the Kreider/Zuccarello duo with Derek Stepan is beyond me. It’s time to reunite them or maybe try Zuccarello with Kevin Hayes and put Kreider back with Stepan.

Buchnevich should be reunited with Zibanejad and Rick Nash for tomorrow’s match at Boston. That’s assuming Zibanejad can go depending on his wrist which he nicked up at the end of the Columbus loss. Otherwise, J.T. Miller centers the third line. He’s so much more effective on the right side where he can make plays with the puck and be more of a finisher. Maybe Vigneault should split up Hayes and Miller and move Miller up to Stepan with Kreider. Kreider can’t play with Hayes unless there’s a defensively responsible forward with them. They tried both Kreider and Zuccarello with Hayes and it was a disaster.

Jimmy Vesey can always slide down to the third line with Hayes and Michael Grabner. Of course, the idea of breaking up Grabner, Hayes and Miller is one some are hesitant about. But with Grabner slumping and Hayes in a funk reminiscent of last year, the time is right for line changes. Only the fourth line with Oscar Lindberg has been consistent. But he loses Fast while Pirri stays in with Matt Puempel.

The other option is to try Pirri back in a top nine role and see if it gets him going. But you would have to demote Grabner to the fourth line. He can play that role and would complement Lindberg. I’m not sure the coaching staff wants to go that route.

With the power play now 1 for its last 29 after taking the collar in four more chances Tuesday, it’s time for changes. Nothing is working. Buchnevich can help because he’s capable of playing the right side, scoring and setting up teammates. However, his most success has come at even strength with five of his six goals and seven of his nine assists not on the man-advantage.

Assuming he returns, Buchnevich is without a goal in his last 11 games. He hasn’t scored since 1/19. His second game back from a two month rehab to strengthen his back. Ironically, he recorded four points (2-2-4) in those first two games back with Zibanejad, who also tallied twice in a 1/17 loss to Dallas. Since then, he’s been inconsistent recording a goal and six assists in his last 17. Following a good performance in a overtime win over the Devils in which he registered the OT winner and a helper, he was brutal against Columbus finishing minus-two on 2/26.

With Fast out, now is the time to get Buchnevich back in the lineup and let him play. Don’t bury him on the fourth line. He’s too skilled to play in that role. Vigneault had him there due to Vesey picking up his game with his top three lines set. It’s time to find out if Buchnevich can rediscover his scoring touch and help a team that hasn’t been scoring much lately. They’ve scored two goals or less in six of the last seven.

After a visit to Boston, they return to MSG and host Montreal on Saturday. A potential first round opponent who made some solid depth additions up front at the deadline. It would be nice if the Rangers found a way to win that one. They need new combinations. Not the same old vanilla ones that haven’t been working. We’ll see if they’re smart enough to take my advice.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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