Ridiculing Alain Vigneault for treatment of Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey is foolish
New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has made a variety of interesting decisions regarding the way in which he has deployed his personnel during his tenure on Broadway.
Whether it be his egregious handling of Tanner Glass, his persistence to utilize Dan Girardi on the top pair alongside Ryan McDonagh, or his belief that Adam Clendening belongs in the press box rather than on the ice, Vigneault has constantly been pestered by the media for his decision-making, be it justifiable or not.
One of these resolutions that Mr. 600 has been often criticized for is his managing of the Rangers youngsters. Vigneault’s firm treatment of young talent has been widely documented throughout his coaching career and that theme has held true in the Big Apple.
In the past few years, it was JT Miller and Kevin Hayes who were the ones on the receiving end of Vigneault’s “tough love,” which included late-game sittings and even healthy scratches.
This season, it’s been rookies Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey who have become his latest victims. Many have ridiculed Vigneault for his misuse of the pair, most notably their withdrawal of ice time in the third period and constant demotions to the fourth line.
Sunday’s matinee against the Washington Capitals provided a perfect example as to how it’s been for the two talented starlets all year. When Mats Zuccarello netted the go-ahead goal 8:47 into the 3rd period, Vigneault essentially stuck with nine forwards, as he let Buchnevich, Vesey, and Oscar Lindberg ride the pine while Jesper Fast skated with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, forming a more sound defensive line.
The ridicule that AV has experienced in recent weeks, however, is unjust for an assortment of reasons.
Let’s take a closer look why:
For the most part, the Blueshirts’ depth up front has been the primary reason why they sit fifth in the NHL (fourth in the Metropolitan division). Unfortunately with every silver lining comes a dark cloud and that murky mass hanging over the Rangers (besides the lackluster back line) is that it has forced Vigneault to place Buchnevich and Vesey into unfavorable situations.
It’s pretty simple as to how the abundance of quality forwards plays against the Rangers’ favor in this scenario. The Blueshirts lineup currently consists of 10 top nine forwards (including Buchnevich and Vesey). So if you do the math, it’s clear that one of those forwards will be forced to reside on the fourth line.
In a perfect world, it would be speedster Michael Grabner who would occupy that tenth forward slot, allowing the two rookies to flourish with skill around them.
Fortunately for the Rangers, Grabner has exceeded just about everybody’s expectations, as he has regularly found his name on the scoresheet this season.
So that leaves Buchnevich and Vesey. The two skilled wingers have been swapped in and out of the top nine, resulting in decreased production from both players. The decrease in production has led to a shrink in ice time, and the shrink in ice time has halted both players’ respective development.
In order for proper progression for both players, they will need to be seeing regular ice time with talent surrounding them. Vesey requires a line with skill in order to create space for the Harvard graduate to properly use his speed and skill, while Buchnevich needs quality finishers on the receiving end of his smooth passing, both of which the fourth line cannot provide.
And the reason these two are forced to play there is because of their unprecedented forward prowess.
Inexperience and Defensive Deficiencies
What Vigneault has chosen to do late in games when ahead actually makes a lot of sense in my mind.
With the Blueshirts’ defense already as thin as a needle, the former Jack Adams award winner looks to maximize the effectiveness of the back five. Unfortunately, that means that there are times where Vesey and Buchnevich will be forced to warm the bench.
Now, some will argue that it’s imperative to both Vesey’s and Buchnevich’s progression that they see the ice in situations like this, and I tend to agree. The Rangers have a young core that is unlikely to be taking home any silverware this season.
However, we have to remember that AV’s job is ultimately to win hockey games, and promoting Fast rather than Vesey or Buchnevich in these scenarios provides the Blueshirts with the best opportunity to claim two points.