“My only fault is that I don't realize how great I really am.”
-- Muhammad Ali
There was only one Muhammad Ali, but not knowing how great – or how good – one is or can be is not an uncommon affliction in any walk of life. Andre Burakovsky’s ascent to the NHL was quick and, frankly, surprising, given that he went right from Canadian juniors to the Caps’ Opening Night lineup in 2014-2015. Since then, he has been chasing his own potential. The TSN (Canada) scouting report describes him as “Blessed with great speed, he also displays great hands and goal-scoring instincts. Also has an NHL-sized frame with with plenty of projection. Is definitely a game-breaking talent.” From time to time he has displayed those gifts, but in four seasons he topped a dozen goals once (17 in 2015-2016) and doesn’t have a season with more than 23 assists (in 2016-2017).
Last season might have been the most disappointing one for Burakovsky. He appeared in just 56 games (continuing a disturbing trend of playing in a decreasing number of games over the past three seasons), posting 12 goals and 13 assists. He could never seem to get much traction scoring-wise. He had no streaks of more than two games with points at any time last season. He did show some spark late, going 3-3-6 in his last eight games, but he had points in only 18 of 56 games last season.
You might say that Burakovsky’s play has reflected a consistent inconsistency in one respect. Over his four-year career he has not been able to put together long stretches of production, but on a season-by-season basis, he has hovered consistently around the 0.20 goals per game mark (a range of 0.17 to 0.21 over the four seasons and a 16 goals per 82 games pace). Absent the absences, it is not unreasonable to think he could bump that number up a bit. Still, frustration with his production aside, Burakovsky (drafted 23rd overall in 2013) is sixth in his draft class in goals scored (50, tops in his class among wingers) and 11th in points. Only Alexander Barkov (plus-33) and Andrew Copp (plus-35) have a better plus-minus than Burakovsky (plus-32).
Odd Burakovsky Fact…
Burakovsky did have an interesting sense of timing last season. He had five game-winning goals, more than his combined total over his first three seasons (four). No Capital in 2017-2018 had a higher share of total goals be game-winners than Burakovsky.
Andre Burakovsky has done something in his first four seasons that Alex Ovechkin did not do. Burakovsky is one of seven players in team history to have at least 50 goals, at least 70 assists, and record a plus-minus of plus-30 or better (50-70-120, plus-32). Ovechkin would have made eight, but he was a plus-19 over his first four seasons (yes, Ovechkin played on worse teams). And, there are hints he might be a go-to postseason performer. There were those two goals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but that is part of a longer stretch in which he is 5-5-10, plus-7, over his last 16 postseason games, dating back to the second round of the 2017 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Andre Burakovsky doesn’t like home cooking. He goes into this season having played 126 games at home and 126 games on the road. In those 126 road games he has 31 goals, but he has just 19 goals in his 126 games on home ice. Last season, he did not get his first goal on home ice until January 31st (his 13th home game of the season), and only four of his 12 goals were at Capital One Arena (26 games).
- Top-50 in franchise history in goals scored (Burakovsky needs 10 to tie Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann for 50th place).
- Top-50 in franchise history in assists (he needs 27 to tie Dino Ciccarelli, assuming Dmitry Orlov who needs three to tie Ciccarelli, gets there first).
- Top-50 in franchise history in points (he needs 32 to tie Troy Brouwer).
- 50 even strength goals (he needs six)
The Big Question… Is this the year Andre Burakovsky puts it all together?
Andre Burakovsky’s performance numbers – goals, assists, points – have been a bit disappointing, an unfortunate product of inconsistency and injury. But one area in which he has been consistent is productivity in his personal possession numbers. In each of his four seasons, shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 has been above 50 percent when he was on the ice. His 53.25 percent Corsi-for over his four years with the Caps ranks 52nd among 312 forwards skating at least 2,000 5-on-5 minutes, and his Relative Corsi-for of +3.45 ranks 43rd, between David Pastrnak and Blake Wheeler (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
That his efficiency number outperformed his performance numbers, and consistently at that, argues for a wait-and-see attitude toward Burakovsky. There is also the matter of the way injuries have impeded his development and consistency. Three times in his career to date he has had absences of more than 10 days to injury.
The first was a 37-day absence from February 9 to March 18, 2017 due to a hand injury. In the 13 full games in which he played right before that (not including the game in which he sustained the injury), he was 6-8-14, plus-13. He was out for 44 days early from late October to early December last season with a broken thumb, and he was just 1-3-4, minus-2 in the nine games to open the season that preceded his absence. However, in the eight games to wrap up the regular season he was 3-3-6, plus-10, and then in Game 2 of the first round playoff series against Columbus, he suffered an upper body injury that caused him to miss 25 days. Just when he seemed to be establishing some offensive momentum, he had it stopped by injury.
In the end…
Andre Burakovsky might be the biggest unknown coming into the 2018-2019 season, an odd thing to contemplate on a roster in which almost everyone is returning from last season. He has shown his considerable offensive gifts, although all too often in short stretches. Part of that is consistency. He had four streaks of four or more games without a point last season, including streaks of seven and eight games. That is a lot of quiet time in a season in which he appeared in just 56 games. But one wonders if that is the product of youth (he will not turn 24 until February), injury, or the absence of (for lack of a better term) the “hockey IQ” needed to be a more consistent contributor.
Burakovsky is a tantalizing talent. He certainly has the talent to be a regular top-six forward on a contender. One wonders what his numbers might look like if he was to dress for 70 or more games (his career high is 79 games in 2015-2016). We would be closer to realizing how good – or how great – Andre Burakovsky could be.
Projection: 69 games, 18-24-42, plus-5
Photo: Getty Images North America
Photo: Getty Images North America