Andre Burakovsky began the summer uncertain about what his future might hold and what would be the best course for his development. But roughly two months after being drafted by the Capitals he has embarked on arguably the biggest transition of his young career – moving to North America.
The 2013 first-round draft pick has had a whirlwind few weeks, committing to play for the OHL’s Erie Otters, traveling to the United States and signing his entry-level contract with the Capitals on the opening day of rookie camp Wednesday.
General Manager George McPhee is pleased to see that Burakovsky, 18, is willing to embrace the challenge of playing in the OHL and immersing himself in an entirely new environment than what he was accustomed to growing up in Sweden.
“We’re really delighted that he’s playing in Erie,” said McPhee, who cited Martin Erat and former Capital Tomas Fleischmann as examples of European players who benefited from playing in the Canadian Hockey League before they moved on to the AHL and NHL.
“What we wanted to do was get him playing with kids his own age because he’s been playing in a men’s league over in Europe and get him playing a lot so he’ll learn about the NHL game,” McPhee said. “We thought it was a great spot for him. He’s playing with this Connor McDavid kid, who is a terrific player, and it looks like they’ve got some really good chemistry already. He needs to learn to speak the language a little bit better. He speaks fairly well but he has a lot more to learn. And why not do it now?”
Keep in mind that while Burakovsky is participating in rookie camp, he will eventually be returned to Erie. Burakovsky is eligible to play in the AHL but McPhee said that would be asking too much of the young forward.
“I wouldn’t do that,” McPhee said of Burakovsky starting the year in Hershey. “He’s not ready for that, he’s too young.”
The chance for significant playing time was the main reason Burakovsky ultimately agreed that Erie provided the best opportunity for him to grow as a player. Playing on a line with McDavid, who is highly touted and could be selected first overall in the 2015 NHL draft, doesn’t hurt either.
“I want to play much. In Sweden I play like 12 minutes every game and stuff and in Erie, I’m maybe going to play 20-25 minutes every game,” Burakovsky said. “I need to play much. If you play much you get better every game.”
More on the Capitals and the NHL
DC Sports Bog: Dave Steckel opens up about fertility struggles