GREENBURGH, N.Y. — For Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers’ most highly touted Russian prospect in a decade, the transition to North America has begun.
On and off the ice, the 21-year-old winger is facing challenges: From learning English to building strength to adapting his game to smaller rinks.
But in his first meeting with the New York media on Tuesday, Buchnevich — through an interpreter, Nickolai Bobrov, the team’s director of European scouting — expressed confidence that he will succeed in the NHL.
“If I weren’t sure, I wouldn’t come here,” Buchnevich said.
The Rangers front office had wanted Buchnevich, who was drafted 75th overall in 2013, to relocate last summer rather than staying in the KHL in Russia. But the 6-2 forward, who weighs about 175 pounds, declined, believing he needed more ice time and experience.
“I didn’t feel I was ready, now I feel better and more ready,” he said. “At 20, it’s still considered to be young, and I felt that I needed to get physically prepared.”
In 40 games with Cherepovets Severstal, where Buchnevich didn’t get a lot of ice time, he posted 12 goals and 29 points. After being traded to SKA St. Petersburg, Buchnevich had four goals and eight points in 18 games. But the NHL, he said, “is obviously a physical game . . . less time to make decisions, less space to make plays, more speed, more quickness . . . fewer cycles and regroups and more scoring chances.”
During prospect camp, observers have seen some deft skating and a quick release. “I’m just getting into shape,” said Buchnevich, who had surgery in May for an infected bursa sac of his left elbow.
Buchnevich is rooming with a fellow Russian, defenseman Sergey Zborovskiy, who was drafted by the Rangers in 2015 and played last season with the WHL’s Regina Pats. “All the guys [fellow prospects and coaches] are being very helpful, they either show by hands or help with words,” he said. Former Devil Ilya Kovalchuk, who played with SKA, also has been encouraging. “He was a resource,” Buchnevich said. “He sent me three or four [texts] recently, congratulating me on being here.”
Eventually, the Rangers will hire a tutor and Buchnevich will live with a non-Russian family. He will head home for 10 days later in the summer, and return for training camp in September.
Bobrov, who worked with young Russians when he was with the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins, said Buchnevich will be fine. “He’s pretty self-reliant,” he said.
The Rangers hope Buchnevich can contribute as soon as possible. Asked if he considered himself a goal scorer, Buchnevich laughed and said “not quite . . . but I’m a thinking player, a cerebral player, a playmaker . . . I’m focused on the summer and getting in shape for this type of hockey.”