Friday, September 09, 2016

Washington Capitals 2016-2017 Previews -- Forwards: Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”
-- Aristotle

When last we met Andre Burakovsky, he was having a devil (or a Flyer, or a Penguin) of a time trying to get his offensive game untracked in the postseason.  In 12 postseason games last spring, he had one point (a goal in a 4-3 Game 1 win over Pittsburgh in the second round).  Almost as much as the lack of points was the lack of offensive aggression.  He had 16 shots on goal in 12 games, which seems a bit light for a scoring winger.  He did not record his first shot on goal of the playoffs until Game 4 of the opening round against Philadelphia.

It was a disappointing end to what was a rather pleasant sophomore year for Burakovsky.  He appeared in 79 games and almost doubled his goal (17 to 9), assist (21 to 13), and points production (38 to 22) over his rookie season.  He almost doubled his shots on goal (126 to 65 as a rookie) and lifted his shots on goal per game by almost 30 percent (from 1.23 to 1.59).  He even received as many Lady Byng Trophy votes as teammate Nicklas Backstrom (okay, each got one fifth-place vote).

He even endured a two-game benching without undue harm to his confidence, although it did take him a little while longer to get going as far as points production was concerned.  In his last 47 games of the regular season he went 15-15-30, a healthy 50-plus points rate over a full season. 

On the other hand, Burakovsky was not an especially impressive possession player.  He finished smack in the middle – seventh – of 13 forwards with at least 250 minutes of ice time in Corsi-for (51.5 percent; numbers from  It was a substantial drop from his rookie season (54.6). It might have contributed to a drop in goals-for/goals-against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 from 61.1 percent in 2014-2015 to 53.1 percent last season.

Fearless’ Take…

Burakovsky is one of seven players in Caps history to record at least 25 career goals and at least 30 career assists by the age of 20.  The rest of the list isn’t bad.  It is that last part – by the age of 20 – that might get lost in the noise.  Burakovsky is just the seventh Capital in team history to play in at least 100 NHL games by the age of 20 and just the second since 1987 (Tom Wilson is the other).  It is also good to keep in mind that this is just his fourth year playing hockey in North America, a year of Canadian juniors (Erie Otters) being his first.  Burakovsky is not as much a work in progress as he is a canvass that has just been put on the easel to be painted.

Cheerless’ Take…

Looking back on last season, maybe that playoff performance shouldn’t have been a surprise.  It’s not like he went into the playoffs guns a’blazin’.  He had a goal and an assist over his last 11 regular season games.  He did the same thing in 2015; he was 0-1-1 in his last 11 regular season games.  Then, he went without a point in his first six postseason games.  And here is something odd about his shots.  Yeah, he had 126 shots in 79 games last season, but 10 of them came in one game (a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd in which he recorded one of the two goals).  That leaves 116 shots in 78 other games (in 20 of them, he did not have a shot on goal).  Still an improvement over the previous year, but it doesn’t sound quite as impressive.

The Big Question… Is this the season Andre Burakovsky puts it together over a full year?

We do not pose that question thinking he cannot do it; we pose it wondering if, still short of his 22nd birthday, he has the experience and physical maturity to do it.  This is a big season for the Caps, arguably their last best chance to win a Stanley Cup in the short term.  If this is the year that Burakovsky can put together a solid 82-game campaign and not wilt down the stretch and the postseason, it could be the best boost the club could get in finally reaching that goal.  If there is something to provide some incentive in addition to the thrill of victory, it is that Burakovsky is entering the last year of his entry-level contract (AAV or $894,166 according to  But here is something to think about.  If Burakovsky was to sustain the production he has had early in seasons over the full 82-game slate, a 25-35-60 season would not be out of the question.  That would give him 51 career goals and 69 career assists.  Let’s round that assist number up to 70.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, only 14 players 21 or younger had three seasons in the NHL and at least 50 goals and 70 assists.  It is a list that includes the likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nathan MacKinnon, and Taylor Hall.  It would be a big leap for Burakovsky, but not bigger than the one he made from his rookie to his sophomore year.

In the end…

Andre Burakovsky is still, at this writing, about 150 days short of his 22nd birthday.  Like any youngster with potential, he has had flashes of showing just what that potential is, and stretches in which he disappears.  In his first two seasons, those disappearing stretches have come late in seasons, including the playoffs.  That is a habit that cannot be tolerated for long if he and the Caps are going to make a deep postseason run.  It might be asking a lot for him to grow up a little faster, but the fact is that this season might present the best opportunity the Caps will have to win a championship in the short-term.  It is not all on Burakovsky’s shoulders, by any means, but he has the skill to be an impact player for this club, and there is no better time to establish the habit of being one than now.

Projection: 78 games, 20-26-46, plus-8

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals 2016-2017 Previews -- Forwards: Jay Beagle

Jay Beagle

“The shovel is brother to the gun.”
-- Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg penned that line in his poem, “Iron,” a short verse about war and death.  Hockey is not war, but it is a battle. Players do not die, but they do make physical sacrifices.  And for every big scorer with a powerful shot, there is a teammate with a shovel of sorts doing his part.

Jay Beagle does not have a big gun in his arsenal.  He carries a shovel.  At 30 years of age, it appears he is and will remain a player whose top-end offensive numbers will be modest – he has 18 goals and 37 points in 119 games over his last two seasons, his best two seasons in the NHL, although his shooting percentage over those two seasons (11.4 percent) is far above his career mark (9.5 percent).  He does two things not commonly showing up in the box score very well.  For example, of 114 players taking at least 250 faceoffs last season, Beagle was third in winning percentage (58.1 percent), behind Jonathan Toews (58.6 percent) and Ryan Kesler (58.5 percent).  If he had won three more of the 637 draws he took, he would have finished first.  And, his goals against/60 (1.39) was second-best on the team (Nicklas Backstrom: 1.37).  That might be as attributable to Beagle’s fourth line role as it might be to defensive skill, but it is still a good number.

Jay Beagle might be a fourth-liner, but he’s also sixth on the active roster list of Capitals skaters in games played (311).  It would be more, but he has missed significant chunks of games to injury since he made his first appearance in the NHL in the 2008-2009 season.  He missed seven games late in the 2010-2011 season to an upper-body injury.  There were the 31 games missed at the start of the 2011-2012 injury due to a concussion suffered in a fight.  He had two stretches (five games and 14 games) out of the lineup in 2014-2015 due to upper-body injuries.  And there were the 24 games missed last season to a hand injury.

Fearless’ Take…

By now, most Caps fans know that Jay Beagle is something of a good luck charm.  Until the Caps lost to the New York Rangers last March 4th, 3-2, the Caps had never lost a game in regulation time when Beagle scored a goal.  As it is, the Caps are 23-1-5 in the 29 games in which Beagle scored a goal over his career.  Think of it as the power of secondary (or tertiary…or quaternary, given his fourth-line role) scoring.  More than that, though, is that perhaps the light has gone on over Beagle’s head on the matter of scoring at this level.  Not that he is ever going to make anyone forget Alex Ovechkin as a goal scorer, but his goals and points per game over the last two seasons (0.15/0.31) are more than double his production over his first four seasons (0.07/0.14).

Cheerless’ Take…

I think someone performed an exorcism on Beagle, because there’s no possession.  Get it?  Get it??  OK, but hey, he finished 10th of 13 forwards on the team with 250 or more 5-on-5 minutes in Corsi-for percentage last year (49.83; numbers from  And it might have been nice if he had more than one point in the Caps’ last nine playoff games last spring.  Sure, he’s a fourth liner, but it’s a bit of a trend…two points in his last nine playoff games in 2015, one in seven games in 2013 (the Caps did not reach the postseason in 2014), two in 12 games in 2012.  Just a little more would help.

The Big Question… Is Jay Beagle a potential 30-point player?

Don’t laugh.  Well, don’t laugh too hard.  Over his last two seasons, his per-82 game scoring pace is 12-13-25.  If he stays healthy, perhaps he gets into and stays in a rhythm.  Consider that last season he was 6-6-12 in his first 36 games before injuring his hand against Buffalo and missing almost two months.  That’s a 14-14-28 pace over 82 games.  Maintaining that kind of a scoring pace does depend on his being healthy and maintaining the shooting percentage he posted over the last two seasons.  A healthy dose of skepticism with respect to the latter might be in order when one remembers that his 11.4 percent shooting percentage over the last two seasons dwarfs the 6.4 percent he posted over his first six seasons.  Is it a new normal, or does he regress to a lower steady state?  If it is the former, maybe he can be a 30-point player, or close to it.

In the end…

Jay Beagle is a decent fourth line forward.  As far as value goes, if you look at average annual value, Beagle (31 years old, $1,750,000) sits squarely among a group of players of whom is might be said there are some you might rather have (Teddy Purcell) and others you might prefer Beagle to (Matt Hendricks; AAV information from as a Capital.  If you turn that statement around a bit, though, you might conclude that Jay Beagle is a very replaceable player.  Such is the case with fourth liners.  Is there that much difference between Beagle and a Mark Letestu or a Ryan Garbutt, both of whom are also in that AAV neighborhood?

If you are thinking “production,” though, getting a handle on Beagle is not so easy.  He has produced at a better-than-career level the past couple of years, but is that sustainable or a product of the randomness of better shooting percentages?  He might be more effective with more consistent health, but he has missed at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons.  The one thing that seems as certain as anything is that there will be no talk of Beagle as a potential third-line center. He has as well-defined a role as anyone on the team: fourth line minutes, winning faceoffs, and providing an energy lift in the 12-14 minutes of ice time he seems likely to get per game.  It’s hard, but necessary work.  Bring a shovel.

Projection: 62 games, 7-8-15, minus-1

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America