In 2014, Andre Burakovsky came into the league as a 19-year-old rookie from Sweden. Out of training camp, he won a job as the Washington Capitals’ second line center due to his skill and speed. But before the new year, he was playing for the Hershey Bears, demoted to Washington’s farm club after a string of healthy scratches and games on the forth line. Burakovsky eventually made it back up to the Capitals, but continued to see time in the press box. Last season, Burakovsky began the season on the power play, but lost his job after another poor start, scoring two goals in his first 32 games.
“I knew this was going to be a tough league but I didn’t expect it to be that tough every single game,” Burakovsky said Monday. “If you’re not prepared the proper way and you’re not there 100 percent, you will have a really tough game.”
Burakovsky’s 2016 has gone much better. He scored 14 goals in 45 games after the turn of the new year, finishing second on the team in even-strength goals behind Alex Ovechkin. During the offseason, the Swedish forward became stronger, putting on seven pounds. Burakovsky, now 21, worked on his skating and puck management, especially through the neutral zone, to eliminate turnovers. But he also made a change off the ice. Burakovsky started seeing a well-regarded Swedish sports psychologist who is the aunt of one of his good friends.
“I wanted to try it and I really liked it,” Burakovsky said. “I think it’s really good for me and it can help me a lot this year.”
With a new mindset on the ice, Burakovsky hopes to rid himself of prolonged stretches of bad play that have plagued his NHL career, now in its third year.
“Everyone’s going to have a bad game, but I want to bounce back for the next one, have a good one again,” Burakovsky said. “I want to be a little more stable through whole year and that’s something I’ve been working on and talking about with my mental coach.”
Burakovsky and head coach Barry Trotz said the young forward has often overthought during and after bad games, only compounding the issue.
“He takes a lot of pride in his game and he values production,” Trotz said. “When he goes through long lulls without production, he sometimes dwells on it too much and forgets about some of the other stuff you can do to contribute.”
Now Burakovsky wants to maintain his confidence and love of the game despite even if he is not putting points on the board.
“You just got to go out there and not think as much — just play and have fun,” he said.
Things are going well for Burakovsky. He scored twice in the season opener against the Penguins and is playing on the second line with countrymen Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson while regaining a spot on the power play.
“It’s a lot a fun,” Burakovsky said. “I think Swedes play a different way. We we wanted to keep the puck between us all the time. We don’t really want to give it away a lot.”
The second line trio has been Washington’s best on both sides of the puck, with around 65 percent of shot attempts going the Capitals’ way with them on the ice.
Through two regular-season games and the preseason, Trotz has been impressed with Burakovsky’s play, noting that his increased strength is allowing him to play in the middle of the ice without getting pushed around. His two goals this season have both come from the slot.
“You watch him in practice, he’s skating every drill hard, he’s doing every thing professionally” Trotz said. “He has an air of confidence. He’s shooting the puck and it’s going in the net.”
So far, Trotz has a simple message for Burakovsky: “Listen to Nick. He’ll help you out.”
“Those are the best mentors for young players, players that have gone through that,” Trotz said.
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