VANCOUVER — First-year Rangers coach David Quinn has certainly had his frustrations with Pavel Buchnevich, the young Russian winger whom Quinn has banished to the press box four times this season as a healthy scratch.
But since the last time he was left out of the lineup, Jan. 29 against Minnesota, Buchnevich has seemed to turn things around. Entering Wednesday’s game against the Canucks, he had played in 20 straight games, his longest continuous stay in the lineup this season, and he had put up six goals and seven assists in that span. Best of all, he seems to have gained favor with Quinn, who praised him last week after he scored both of the Rangers’ goals in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Red Wings in Detroit.
“He’s been playing good hockey for about three weeks now,’’ Quinn said after that game. “It’s no coincidence that the way he’s been competing and skating, he’s been getting rewarded offensively. That’s usually how it works, and I’m just really happy where his game’s at right now.’’
Quinn had said that in the 1-0 loss to Dallas that preceded the Detroit game, Buchnevich had been one of several Rangers who weren’t very good. So for him to bounce back against Detroit “showed maturity,’’ the coach said. Also in that Detroit game, Quinn put together a third line that had Buchnevich playing with rookie Brett Howden and newcomer Brendan Lemieux. And in the first three games together, entering Wednesday, that line seemed to be working.
Lemieux, who had played seven games with the Rangers since coming over at the trade deadline from Winnipeg in the Kevin Hayes deal, said Buchnevich’s skills and creativity complement his own basic, up-and-down game perfectly.
“It was apparent since, pretty much Day 1, ‘Buch’ is highly, highly skilled,’’ Lemieux said. “He thinks the game well . . . he doesn’t turn too many pucks over, or try too many fancy plays. But he’s also got an incredible shot and he can read the game really well. And he’s also got the hands to match his shot. As far as skills go, he’s up there with the best of them.’’
At 23, and in his third NHL season, Buchnevich is the veteran on the line, and he’s tried to take a leadership role in accepting the responsibility to try and create offense when things are stagnant.
“The last couple games, if we don’t have a scoring chance, I kind of say, ‘Give me puck, and if you’re open, I’ll try and find you,’ ’’ Buchnevich said Wednesday. “Sometimes this works. I try to create more space for them and try to create for them the scoring chances.’’
Buchnevich, who has a career-high 15 goals (with 13 assists) in 52 games played, said he has changed his game a little, to try and adapt in his current role. He said, as a third-liner, he is trying to play a more simple, straight up-and-down style than he normally does if he is on one of the top two lines.
“I try and play simple hockey, not do stupid things, like turnovers,’’ he said. “If you play [on the] first line, you have to produce scoring chances, and that stuff. When you play third line, I think, it’s less asking you for that. I think I’m more [focused on] the defensive zone.’’
Still, even on the third line, Buchnevich said he can’t help freelancing at least a little bit.
“In North America . . . I’d say, the third and fourth line, the bottom lines, they play more straight [up-and-down] lines,’’ he said. “I kind of play all over, and I kind of surprise my linemates —– they don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes this works; sometimes, no. But I try and play my hockey what I do best.’’