By Sean Hartnett
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Twenty-one-year-old Russian prospect Pavel Buchnevich holds the key to the Rangers’ future. The Blueshirts are in need of an influx of youth and speed after the rival Pittsburgh Penguins outskated and outskilled the Rangers to complete a one-sided first-round series victory.

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At an average age of 28.2, the Rangers are the oldest team in the NHL. They need fresh blood added to both their forward lines and defensive pairings. Buchnevich, a highly skilled 6-foot-1 forward, is exactly the sort of remedy needed to help fix the suddenly slow-footed Blueshirts.

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Brady Skjei, Oscar Lindberg, Dylan McIlrath and Marek Hrivik were rookies who broke through and impressed at the NHL level this season. During Tuesday’s break-up day, captain Ryan McDonagh spoke of the importance of youthful players stepping up and grabbing hold of NHL roles.

“Guys getting called up throughout the season and making a big impact for us, it has to be a staple with your organizations now,” McDonagh said. “Young guys coming up for injuries and whatnot, that happens — I’m sure you’ll see some more guys from Hartford.”

Center Derick Brassard specifically mentioned his excitement at the prospect of “that kid from Russia” joining up with the Rangers in the fall. Buchnevich is expected to sign an entry-level contract and join the Rangers for training camp, which typically begins in mid-September.

“I know he’s a great player,” alternate captain Derek Stepan said. “I do see things about him on social media, articles and stuff like that. If he’s part of our future, (it’s important) any time you can make your organization better. If he’s going to be a part of it, we’re glad to have him.”

A third-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2013, Buchnevich is regarded as more of a skilled playmaker than a pure goal scorer. His game is brimming with natural creativity, and he has added bulk to his frame, now weighing in at 176 pounds, according the KHL’s official website.

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“Pavel plays with good effort, desire and attitude,” Rangers European scout Oto Hascak said in 2014. “He has exceptional ability and great vision with the puck. He has the potential to play a key role on an NHL team in the future.”

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“He’s an intense player,” Rangers European scout Vladimir Lutchenko said in 2015. “He has skated well, has been strong on the puck and possesses good vision. He makes quick, smart decisions with the puck and makes plays with his creative passes. He has great playmaking ability. He has the ability to control the game and to make quick decisions with the puck while in traffic.”

Buchnevich split the 2015-16 KHL season between Severstal Cherepovets and SKA St. Petersburg, skating in 58 combined regular season games. He scored 16 goals and recorded 21 assists while averaging 19.5 shifts and 16:10 TOI per game.

Keep in mind, the KHL is a breeding ground for promising youngsters hoping to prepare themselves for the NHL by competing against seasoned pros. Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Artemi Panarin are just some who went straight from the KHL to the NHL and achieved immediate success.

Through 158 career KHL regular season games, Buchnevich has collected 87 points – 0.58 points per game. That measure compares favorably to Tarasenko’s KHL average points/GP of 0.63.

There’s a strong chance Buchnevich is the next highly touted Russian to make the leap directly to the NHL and enjoy a meteoric rise to stardom. If that’s the case, the lights are going to shine a little brighter at the Garden next season.

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Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey