Pavel Buchnevich, the most highly touted Russian prospect in years, debuted for the Rangers in Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.
With the Rangers leading 2-1 in the third period, Buchnevich attempted a dangerous pass that was picked off, and a subsequent deflection by Cal Clutterbuck tied the score. His body language and the discussion at the bench that followed showed that he knew he was in error.
Through a translator, Buchnevich said, “I should have moved up rather than tried the pass, but it hit the defender.”
Said Mika Zibanejad, “We talked about it. It was bouncy on the ice. You’re gonna make mistakes out there. Sometimes it’s out of your control. When that happens, you just want to get that back.”
Minutes later, he did. Buchnevich, 21, who played in the KHL last season, flipped a high cross-ice pass to Chris Kreider, who gloved it down, skated in on Jaroslav Halak, deked and scored on a backhander to put the Rangers up 3-2. It was Buchnevich’s first NHL point.
Said Zibanejad, “He did a good job to get it to Kreids.”
Buchnevich had six shot attempts in 13:47. Three were on goal, two missed and one shot was blocked. He also slid to block an open shot in the first period.
Buchnevich put in a summer of hard work. He studied English with a host family and on a phone app, worked out several times a week and learned the game on the smaller rinks with eventual linemate Kreider.
Before the season opener, Buchnevich said through an interpreter that the transition was aided because he consistently played with Kreider and Zibanejad in practice and the preseason, so he understands what to do in certain situations. Having played on the larger ice surfaces, he is changing his game for the NHL. “Pass and go,” he said.
And he is making the adjustments to Manhattan, enjoying the team’s visit to the police academy and the history of the World Trade Center site last weekend. “The city is awesome,” he said.
The entire line meshed Thursday night. Kreider added an assist and Zibanejad posted two for a five-point night for the trio.
Buchnevich was asked if he was aware of the importance of the long rivalry with the Islanders. He looked at the questioner quizzically. Then he said, “I’ve also heard about Pittsburgh and Washington . . . and Boston.”
He will get his chances against them very soon.
Notes & quotes: Former Islander Michael Grabner opened the scoring. In his first game against his former club last season, while with the Maple Leafs, Grabner scored the game-winner . . . Brandon Pirri scored Thursday night’s game-winner on the power play, recording his first goal as a Ranger. Five different players scored.