Former Rangers forward signs massive contract, still not replaced in New York

NHL: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Rangers continue to try and replace Pavel Buchnevich, the talented forward was busy agreeing to a six-year, $48 million contract extension with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

It’s been nearly three years since the Rangers traded Buchnevich to the Blues on July 23, 2021. Since that day, Buchnevich has scored at pretty much a point-per-game pace with 206 points in 216 regular-season games and has at least 26 goals in each of his three seasons with the Blues, including an NHL career-high 30 in 2021-22. And now he’s got himself a fairly sizeable payday in St. Louis.

As for the Rangers, they’ve done quite well since that trade, with three straight 100-point seasons, a Presidents’ Trophy and two trips to the Eastern Conference Final. What they haven’t done since that trade is effectively replace Buchnevich on the line centered by Mika Zibanejad.

And some would argue that’s what’s held the Rangers back from winning the Stanley Cup.

Zibanejad and left-wing BFF Chris Kreider have put up some impressive numbers. But they simply have not been able to form consistent chemistry with any of the host of right wings that have tried to replace Buchnevich, who had excellent chemistry, especially with Zibanejad.

Frank Vatrano was the best of the lot, fitting in nicely on the top line after being acquired ahead of the 2022 trade deadline. He mixed well with Zibanejad and Kreider all the way through an exciting Stanley Cup Playoff run that ended in a six-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference final.

Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Kaapo Kakko, Blake Wheeler, Jimmy Vesey and Dryden Hunt (!) are among those who tried and failed to replace Buchnevich — though it should be pointed out that Alexis Lafreniere scored 28 goals when he switched to right wing this past season, just not on Zibanejad’s line.

Meanwhile, Buchnevich has been a model of consistency with the Blues, second on the team the past three seasons with 83 goals and 123 assists. And now he’s a cornerstone with the franchise, signed with the Blues through his age-36 season in 2030-31. When his extension kicks in for the 2025-26 season, he will be the third-highest paid player on the Blues.

Related: Former Rangers center lands stunning free-agent contract

Reilly Smith could be latest player Rangers try to replace Pavel Buchnevich with

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Philadelphia Flyers
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers acquired veteran forward Reilly Smith in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for two draft picks Monday. The 33-year-old will be in the mix to play right wing on the Zibanejad line when training camp opens in September.

Perhaps Smith will be able to unlock Zibanejad and Kreider at 5v5, though there are doubts considering his production in Pittsburgh tumbled to 13 goals and 40 points last season after he scored 26 goals in 2022-23.

He won’t be handed the opportunity, though. The Rangers may not be done looking outside the organization for a top-six right wing, perhaps in another trade. The Rangers will take a long look at internal candidates like rookie Brennan Othmann and returning wings Will Cuylle and Kakko. Perhaps even Filip Chytil, who played right wing this spring during the playoffs, will get a look in that spot.

None of that is a concern for Buchnevich, who’ll be trying to help the Blues get back into the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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