When Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz made 21-year old Andre Burakovsky a healthy scratch for three consecutive games in late December, he did so with the hope that it would motivate the former first-round pick to start producing offensively. And based on his play since then, it’s worked.
In the 27 games he played prior to his benching, Burakovsly had recorded only 10 points (two goals, eight assists). His two goals had come in the first game of the season and he had failed to light the lamp since.
The solid play by the Caps forwards left Burakovsky’s place in the lineup (when he returned) a bit unclear. Since returning to the lineup on December 21, Burakovsky has played every game and his production has vastly improved. In nine games, he’s scored three goals and added two assists for five points, and has increased his shot percentage from a career-worst 4.8% to 8.6%, an increase of 3.8%. As a result of his improved play and increased ice time (he’s averaged 59 seconds more ice time – 14:00 – than he did last season), he’s seen his confidence grow.
After scoring 17 goals and finishing the 2015-16 season with a career-high 38 points, Burakovsky started this season with high expectations, set by both himself and the coaching staff, and started the season on the second-line. While he’s already in his third season in the NHL, Burakovsky is still just 21-years old, and like any player his age, growing pains are to be expected.
His confidence is so high, he guaranteed a win before the Caps’ last game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who came into the game riding a 16-game win streak. Fortunately for Burakovsky, the Caps downed the Blue Jackets 5-0, and Burakovsky himself scored in the win.
While it’s still a small sample size, Burakovsky’s improved play is a good sign for both him and the Caps. If he continues putting points on the board, Burakovsky will become a dangerous weapon for the Capitals down the stretch and into the playoffs. He’s currently on pace for 11 goals, 22 assists, and 33 points, which would be a five-point decrease from last year. However, his creativity and control of the puck have improved vastly since last season and that should help him create more scoring chances for himself and his teammates. He’s clearly shown the potential to be an impactful player for the Caps. Once he does establish himself as a dangerous scorer, other teams will have yet another Capitals forward to keep an eye on in the offensive zone.
By Michael Fleetwood