GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The two players had just trudged off the ice together after Thursday’s practice, and they sat down a few stalls apart in the dressing room.
Asked if he feels more comfortable in his second season in New York, forward Pavel Buchnevich nodded and gestured toward Alexei Bereglazov, saying: “We have another Russian here.”
Bereglazov, a defenseman who played four seasons in the KHL but at 23 is only a year older than Buchnevich, looked over and said: “My son . . . do you want some milk?” That elicited laughter from everyone nearby, including Buchnevich.
To be sure, Buchnevich, chosen in the third round of the 2013 draft, was a bit lonesome at the beginning of last season while he made the adjustment to North America, helped along by a host family and Chris Kreider’s ability to speak Russian. The left wing’s rookie year was a roller coaster, rising with good play and derailed by injury.
He looked good against the Islanders in a 5-3 win on opening night, but after a second game, what appeared to be back spasms forced him to sit for two weeks. Buchnevich returned on Oct. 28, played eight straight games and produced goals in each of the last four. But the pain and stiffness worsened. He was shut down, missing two months, and often stayed behind on road trips.
Starting on Jan. 13, he scored six points in four games, but he didn’t stay healthy or totally recover. Between treatments, rehab and rest, he played only 25 games the rest of the season, often on the fourth line. He did skate in five playoff games, with one assist.
In short, Buchnevich needed to strengthen his body and his confidence. If he can become a fixture in the top nine, the Rangers can’t help but improve.
In June and most of July, he was back home in Moscow, where his parents live. He skated with other players and friends — “three-on-three, for fun” he said — and returned to the metropolitan area on July 22. He began regular workouts at Prentiss Sports Performance in Stamford, Connecticut, with other teammates, concentrating on upper-body work.
On Friday night, Buchnevich will play his second preseason game against the Islanders when the teams face off at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the home of the Islanders’ AHL affiliate. He’ll be on a line with J.T. Miller and Filip Chytil. In the first game, a 1-0 overtime win on Monday, Buchnevich generated one shot and was credited with one hit in 15:31.
“This year, everybody knows me, and I know them. I’m more familiar with everything. In camp, I know what happens, I know what to expect next,” he said.
The back, he said, is “definitely better . . . If I stay healthy, I can play with more confidence.”