Rangers GM Chris Drury couldn’t wait for the television cameras to come on before he started making moves. Hours before the NHL entry draft kicked off Friday on ESPN2, Drury got the night started by trading top-line right wing Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward Sammy Blais and a second-round pick in the 2022 draft.
The trade came one day after Drury signed gritty forward Barclay Goodrow to a six-year, $21.85 million contract as part of his plan to make the Rangers a tougher team to play against next season. Goodrow had been introduced to the media in a Zoom call Friday morning.
Buchnevich, 26, enjoyed the finest season of his five-year NHL career in 2021, scoring 20 goals and a career-high 48 points in 54 games. After several years of frustrating, up-and-down play, the Russian seemed to develop into a responsible, two-way player this season, even becoming a first-unit penalty killer for the first time.
But as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, he was due for a significant raise over the $3.5 million he earned in 2021, and with the Rangers needing to keep salary-cap space open for potential contract extensions to players such as Mika Zibanejad and Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox — as well as having space to potentially trade for a top-six forward this offseason — trading Buchnevich was a step the Rangers felt the need to take. Moving him also potentially opens a spot on the team’s top two forward lines for youngsters Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov.
Buchnevich played 301 games for the Rangers, scoring 79 goals, with 116 assists (195 points) and 112 penalty minutes.
Blais, 25, profiles as a third- or fourth-line winger. The 6-2, 205-pounder had career highs in goals (eight) and assists (seven) in 36 games for the Blues in 2021. In 119 career games for the Blues over parts of four seasons, Blais, who is entering the final year of a two-year contract that pays him an average salary of $1.5 million, had 17 goals, 18 assists and 44 penalty minutes.