Colorado Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky hit 13 goals this week, surpassing last season’s goal total in 44 fewer games. As an avowed Andre fan, I’m delighted for the player, but as an interested follower of the Capitals’ success, I need to know what has unlocked his potential. Maybe there’s a lesson the Caps can learn here.
The Avs celebrated Burakovsky’s breakout with a slightly sassy subtweet.
Andre Burakovsky, the last three seasons: 12 goals.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) December 19, 2019
Burakovsky’s 2018-19 season (goal-scoring in blue below) was troubled with lowered offense and trade rumors, but his move to Colorado has been very successful so far. 2019-20’s goal-scoring is in red.
There are a few factors driving this offensive explosion, but let’s start with what’s not: shot rate. Below are Burakovsky’s individual offense rates play over the past six seasons. Each number is per 60 minutes of five-on-five play except the right-most column, shooting percentage. It’s color-coded using averages for forwards.
Ironically, Burakovsky’s never had lower offensive rates. He’s still a frustratingly peripheral shooter, timid in the low slot (understandable given his injury history). From HockeyViz:
But scoring a goal on 25 percent of his shots-on-goal will forgive all kinds of shortcomings, and that’s the first major driver of Burakovsky’s early success. But it’s not the only one.
Last season, Burakovsky’s most common linemates were Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. Those are two talented players, but now in Colorado Burakovsky is spending lots of time with Nazem Kadri and Nathan MacKinnon, both world-class playmakers. They’re also solidly top-six players, which has led to Burakovsky’s average time-on-ice jumping up a full minute of five-on-five play per game.
That’s just during even strength. The bigger change for Burakovsky has been during the power play. When Gabriel Landeskog missed all of November to injury, Burakovsky got a lot of time on the power play. He’s now played 88 minutes of power-play time in 33 games– that’s more than he saw in his last two full seasons in Washington. That extra time yielded only one goal for Burakovsky, but it speaks to the player being given more opportunity out west.
It’s not as if Burakovsky’s lower playing time and lesser linemates were mistakes for the Caps. Indisputably ahead of Burakovsky in the team’s stack rank were Jakub Vrana and Alex Ovechkin, and the team’s power-play chemistry without Burakovsky had been undeniable. Moreover, Burakovsky’s offensive still lacks the volume and slot focus that made him such a promising player a few seasons ago. But it’s clear that there is a context in which this player can be successful, so long as he’s lucky as well. And for a person whose had so much bad lack over the years, it’s been fun to see him finally having fun out there.
Headline photo: @Avalanche
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