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Postgame: Andre Burakovsky moves closer to NHL roster spot

Celebrate on, Andre Burakovsky, because Coach Barry Trotz believes the rookie has done enough to make the Capitals (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez).

The curtain call took longer than normal, because Andre Burakovsky skated toward the far boards and tossed a puck into the stands, aimed at the cheering Capitals crowd still adjusting to the idea of having him around to stay. Another successful preseason game had passed for Burakovsky, another goal against NHLers he will soon call peers, another moment in the spotlight stamped into the mind of Coach Barry Trotz, reassurance that the rookie forward belongs here.

So when Trotz took the podium following a 3-2 shootout victory Thursday night over visiting Philadelphia, the first question asked how, with one exhibition game left until final cuts, Burakovsky possibly could keep himself off the roster, because inclusion seemed a foregone conclusion.

“Yeah, he’s earned the right,” Trotz said. “He’s gotten better every game. I don’t imagine him not being here.”

Earlier this week, Trotz said Burakovsky was looking “like an NHL player.” On Wednesday in Buffalo, Troy Brouwer predicted that Burakovsky would make the squad: “I think he’s slotted in on the team on opening day at the moment,” he said then.

The next night, Eric Fehr compared Burakovsky’s skills to center Nicklas Backstrom’s and marveled at the impressive ascent of a 20-year-old, until he was reminded that Burakovsky, until next February, is still 19.

“It’s definitely not easy learning all the routes and especially for such a young guy, I don’t think I could’ve done that at his age,” Fehr said. “He’s definitely a mature player for his age. He’s been one of our go-to guys. Not just scoring goals. He’s making the right decisions, he’s making the smart plays.

Washington’s penultimate preseason game contained plenty of highlights, from Fehr’s tying goal with 1 minute and 1 second remaining, to the shootout victory behind tallies by Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, to the six overtime saves from goaltender Justin Peters, mostly in a shorthanded situation, to a first-period fight from free agent invitee Liam O’Brien, who were it not for Burakovsky might be labeled the most pleasant surprise of camp.

It also contained plenty of moments to forget, like another slow start marked by poor defensive-zone puck possession, or a fourth line that allowed both Flyers goals, the second of which came 33 seconds after Burakovsky’s strike, a callback to similar issues of last season.

But to task a player with changing positions by sliding to the middle, as the Capitals did this summer to their 2013 first-round draft pick, fully expecting him to hone that switch in Hershey this season only to command attention again with a laser goal between two Flyers defensemen?

Now that deserved all the praise that swiped the postgame scene.

“We’re talking to him,” Trotz said. “The thing with a young player is you don’t want to over-coach him, tell him every mistake. You want to show him stuff and then he’s got to learn from that. He’s been looking at a lot of film. Obviously we’ve got a great centerman in Backstrom and he’s been looking at our games, Bergeron and people like that. He’s going back to school for the North American here, trying to learn it under fire. Just got to be patient. If we do that, I think we’ll be rewarded.”

Lit up by cameras outside his Verizon Center locker, Burakovsky knew when the familiar question came his way. Each game offered the chance for reporters to gauge his comfort level with playing center, just like each game gave Washington’s coaches the chance to see that comfort level grow. So Burakosvky smiled.

“Yeah, like I said all the times,” he said, “it feels more comfortable every single game and every single practice out there. In the beginning I was a little worried that I was doing wrong all the time. Now I can focus on doing the right stuff on the ice all the time. I don’t have to be afraid to do some mistakes.”