A year ago Gordie Clark, the Rangers Director of Player Personnel, was convinced that Pavel Buchnevich, the organization's elite Russian prospect, was ready to come to North America and compete for an NHL job. Buchnevich, though, believed he needed more seasoning and maturing before making such a move, and decided to remain home and play another season in the KHL.
Now, however, both Buchnevich and Clark are on the same page; and the highly-skilled 21 year-old is confident that he can be a New York Ranger in 2016-17.
"If I weren't sure I wouldn't come here," Buchnevich quickly replied through an interpreter when asked Tuesday is he felt confident that he would be able to play in the NHL this upcoming season.
In his highly anticipated first meeting with local New York media Buchnevich explained why he felt he was more ready now than he had been last year.
"Last year (in KHL) I played a lot and was getting a lot of ice time, and I felt that I needed that experience," stated Buchnevich. "I didn't feel I was ready (for the NHL); but now I feel better and more ready."
Buchnevich added that he also believed, at age 20, he might be too young to come over to North America and that he needed to become stronger "and more physically prepared" for the grind of the National Hockey League.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Buchnevich split the 2015-16 campaign with his hometown Severstal team and the elite, high-profile St. Petersburg squad. He established career-highs in his third KHL season with 16 goals, 21 assists and 37 points, and had the opportunity to play with former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, among other elite teammates.
"Kovalchuk was very good with me," Buchnevich explained through translator Nickolai Bobrov, the Rangers Director of European Scouting. "He sent me many text messages recently, congratulating me on being here. I communicated a lot with him (about this decision) and he was enough of a resource for me."
Buchnevich is currently in New York for the team's annual Prospects Development Camp this week, and will remain here for most of the summer working out at the MSG Training Center while adapting to a new country and language, among other things. He expects to return home to Cherepovets, Russia for about ten days at one point then attend his first NHL training camp with the Rangers in September.
"Pavel has played three years of pro hockey over there already, so he'll come to camp here and have a chance to prove he's not good enough because we think he is good enough," Clark told reporters on Tuesday.
So far during prospects camp Buchnevich has been feeling his way, admittedly working his way back into top conditioning after being sidelined following the KHL playoffs due to a minor injury. The sweet hands, puck handling skills, and quick release on his shot have been noticeable, however.
"I am focused on the present, on the summer, on getting in shape, and getting ready for this type of hockey," offered Buchnevich.
As for what type of player Rangers fans and the organization can expect to see in the near future, Buchnevich smiled when he explained that he "is not quite a goal scorer".
"I am a thinking player, a cerebral player, a play maker."