Sunday, September 03, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Forwards: Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky

“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.”
-- Thomas A. Edison

When Andre Burakovsky almost doubled his goal production between his rookie and sophomore seasons (from nine to 17 goals), increased his assist total by more than 50 percent (from 13 to 21), pumped his point total from 22 to 38, and dressed for all but three games (53 in his rookie season), fans might have been eager at the prospect of seeing Burakovsky making another big leap forward in his third season, in 2016-2017.

He didn’t.  Not that he took a step backward as much as he took a step sideways.  On a per-game basis his goals were a bit off (from 0.22 to 0.19), while his total points were a bit higher (from 0.48 to 0.55), but his shooting percentage took a noticeable dip (from 13.5 to 10.8), and his even strength goal production dropped by almost half (from 17 to 10).  There was also the chunk of 15 game missed to a hand injury from early February to mid-March.  And, if you take out a six-game stretch in January in which he went 4-6-10, Burakovsky’s year bordered on the disappointing in terms of progress.

Underlying the production, Burakovsky was a good – even very good – possession performer.  His 55.27 percent shots attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 led all Caps forwards in the regular season.  In fact, this has been a constant, if the term could apply in what is just a three-year career, with him.  The 55.27 percent mark was his best so far, topping the 54.56 percent he posted in his rookie year of 2014-2015.

Burakovsky rehabilitated himself somewhat in last spring’s postseason, finishing with three goals (all against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round) and six points in 13 games.  The production doubled his career postseason goal total (from three to six) and more than doubled his career point total (from four to ten).

Odd Burakovsky Fact… One gets the feeling Andre Burakovsky’s annual New Year’s resolution is “score more.”  His career scoring line for January is 13-16-29, plus-17, in 35 games.  He does not have more than nine goals in any other month (February) and no more than 17 points in any other month (October).

Fearless’ Take…

Although Burakovsky was taken with the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 entry draft, he is eighth among forwards drafted in games played (196), fifth in goals scored (38, and the top pure winger), seventh in points (95), and tops in plus-minus (plus-29).  He also gives early evidence of being able to grow into a Penguin Killer, at least in the regular season.  He has appeared in more games against the Pens than he has against any other team (12), but accompanying that is his best scoring line against any team (5-4-9, plus-1; he does not have more than seven points against any other team (Columbus)).

Cheerless’ Take…

He is not yet a good finisher, as far as the calendar is concerned.  Sure, he has that nice 13-16-29, plus 17 in 35 January games, but in 67 career games in February, March, and April, he is 14-14-30, plus-10.  And that whole “Penguin Killer” thing has not yet carried over into the postseason.  In 13 career playoff games against the Pens, he is 4-1-5, plus-4, although that does include the 3-1-4, plus-5, he had in seven games against the Pens last spring.  

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018:
  • 200 games played (currently has 196)
  • 50 goals (currently has 38)
  • 100 points (currently has 95)

The Big Question… How much do the Caps’ fortunes depend on Burakovsky taking the next step higher in his development?

The short answer is, “a lot.”  With the departure of Justin Williams among the top-six forwards, and there being uncertainty about whether Alex Ovechkin’s 33-goal season was a blip or the new normal, plus the question of whether T.J. Oshie can replicate his 33-goal campaign last year, Burakovsky’s offensive production is very likely to be an important ingredient in whatever success the Caps enjoy this season.  So far, Burakovsky has averaged 15.9 goals and 39.7 points per-82 games played. Being a 20-30-50 player is probably a floor for a player who should get top-six minutes on a regular basis.

That production might improve with the additional ice time he could get in a consistent top-six role.  So far, he has averaged a little over 13 minutes a game over 196 games.  If he gets Williams’ minutes from last season (15:28) and scores at the same rate he has over his first three seasons, that would bring him to a per-82 game pace of 19-28-47.  If his developmental arc is still proceeding upward, he could improve on that number and be the 20-goal, 50-point player that, perhaps at a minimum, the Caps need to safely secure a playoff spot.

In the end…

The 2017-2018 season for the Capitals does not hinge on the performance of Andre Burakovsky alone, but with as many pieces removed from last year’s club, he is one player (among several) whose performance has to come up a notch or two.  It is a lot to ask when one considers that he will not turn 23 years of age until February.  Until now, Burakovsky has been ahead of his developmental curve, a surprise roster player a year after he was drafted, finishing in the top 20 in scoring among rookies three years ago, seventh among all forwards for the Caps in points over his three seasons (fifth among returning players).

Now, he is going to have to step up in a manner commensurate with what seems likely to be a top-six forward role on a consistent basis (perhaps second line left wing, replacing the departed Marcus Johansson).  The Johansson parallel is interesting in that Johansson showed potential, but he did not make his big leap as a goal scorer until his fifth season, when he hit 20 goals for the first time.  Burakovsky is a year away from that point in his career, but circumstances would seem to dictate that he progress just a little faster.  After the discontent borne of last year’s early exit from the postseason, it just might be possible.

Projection:  20-32-52, plus-14

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America