With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 65 Andre Burakovsky
Age: 21 (turns 22 on Feb. 9, 2017)
Penalty minutes: 12
Time on ice: 13:01
Playoff stats: 12 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, minus-1, 6 PIM, 12:32, 16 shots
Contract status: One year remaining on 3-year, entry-level $2.775 million contract. ($894,166 cap hit, $832,500 salary in 2016-17).
Thanks to the Capitals sprinting out to a 27-6-2 start to the 2015-16 season, few people made mention of Andre Burakovsky stumbling out of the gates with one goal in his first 32 games.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz noticed, benching the then 20-year-old rookie for three of those games because of defensive mistakes that led to offensive chances the other way.
“Yeah, sometimes it’s good to have those ups and downs,” Burakovsky said. “It’s good to have so you learn how to get out of it quick, because everyone’s going to have downs; it’s just reality, it’s just how it is. But the thing you want to learn and the thing you want to do is get rid of them quick.
“I think my downs were maybe 10 or 15 games and that’s something you have to get rid of real quick. That’s something I’ve been working on this year and I think it helped to have those downs. (The offense) is going to come eventually, but I need to work on getting rid of (scoring slumps) real quick.”
Burakovsky bounced between right wing and left wing in the first half of the season, seeing time with third-liners Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle before settling in with second-liners Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams in the second half. Burakovsky did not score his second goal of the season until Dec. 30 but he went on a scoring spree from Jan. 10 to Feb. 26, piling up nine goals and 11 assists in 19 games. He ended the regular season with one goal in his final 11 games, finishing the season with 17 goals (eight more than his rookie season) and 21 assists (eight more than his rookie season) for 38 points.
All but four of Burakovsky’s 38 points came at even strength, putting him in a fifth-place tie on the Caps with T.J. Oshie, who also had 34 even-strength points. Burakovsky managed to put up those numbers while averaging just six seconds more of ice time per game (13:01) than last season (12:55 last season). He also averaged just 47 seconds a game on the power play.
Aside from playing alongside Kuznetsov and Williams, a big reason for Burakovsky’s boost in offense was his increased willingness to shoot the puck. His average shots per game jumped from 1.2 as a rookie to 1.6 this season. But Burakovsky said he also learned more about what is expected of him on and off the ice in his second season, especially after being assigned to the AHL Hershey Bears six times in his rookie season.
“I think I learned a lot,” Burakovsky said. “The first year you’re just feeling your way and enjoying everything. Now they’re giving so much to you and you understand how the league works and how it is to be a young guy in the league. The first year you’re just watching and learning. The second year, I think you take action a little bit more and try to develop yourself and do all the right things. I think for me I think I had a good year and I learned a lot from a lot of guys, too. I definitely took two big steps.”
Burakovsky’s lack of production in the playoffs – in 12 games he managed just one goal on 16 shots and took three penalties after taking just six minors all season – showed he still has some work to do when it comes to getting to the net for more scoring opportunities.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said when asked if he could have given more in the playoffs. “I think we all thought like that. From my perspective, I don’t think I had as much success as I wanted to. I think I could have done a lot more. I think I played decent, but I could have done a lot more.
“Obviously, I haven’t been real happy … but it’s over now and I’m just trying to focus on the summer here and get ready for next season and get some good workouts in and get bigger and stronger to get ready and have a great year next year.”
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said obtaining a bottom six forward is his “main focus” in the offseason.
“The other focus," MacLellan said, "is development and we'll continue to develop our players- Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, (Tom) Wilson, (Dmitry) Orlov, (Nate) Schmidt. We've got to continue to make these guys better.”
With Chimera’s future with the Capitals uncertain, Burakovsky, who stands 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, likely will see more power-play time next season and will be asked to provide a stronger presence along the walls and in front of the net. Depending on whom the Capitals pick up in the offseason, Burakovsky, a left-handed shooter, could begin next season as a second-line left wing with centers Nicklas Backstrom or Kuznstsov, and Williams on the right.
“I saw left wing this year and at the end of the year it was more right wing,” Burakovsky said. “To be honest, I don’t really feel any difference. I like both sides. The only good thing for me on the right wing is that I can cut in the middle and shoot and that’s something I kind of like to do. It doesn’t really matter where I’m playing, I just want to play.”