NEWARK – The visiting locker room at Prudential Center had cleared by the time Andre Burakovsky plopped onto the floor, gassed from extra work after the Washington Capitals’ morning skate. For the second straight day, the 19-year-old center stayed late, and for the first time since joining the NHL this fall, he will be scratched.
“I think Burt’s on a little bit of a downward turn here,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s okay. Pull him out of a game, let him reset, if you will. I think it’s always good to get the urgency level up and the detail level up with any young guy, or anybody really. He’s no different than someone else. He’s been good.”
Based on line rushes Saturday, center Evgeny Kuznetsov will return to the lineup against the Devils, centering Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson. Trotz has scratched Kuznetsov twice this season, officially the 22-year-old’s rookie year by NHL standards. But with Burakovsky having produced just one point since Nov. 11, and Michael Latta’s strong showing Thursday in Carolina, Trotz decided to exchange one young Euro center for another.
“Based on how they’re going, right now both of them, the game is where it is right now and sometimes sitting back and watching it from a different perspective is a good part of the learning process,” Trotz said. “Right now, based on performance and that and where we are at the center ice position, as well as on the wings, we’re going to platoon them a little bit maybe. It’s all on performance. I’m not a big believer in the young guys not playing for very long. We’ll adjust accordingly, I guess is what I’m saying.”
This is the line Trotz has straddled since keeping both Kuznetsov and Burakovsky in Washington after training camp cuts, a decision demanded by the organization’s lack of depth up the middle. The Capitals have insisted on keeping both at center, rather than returning one or the other to his natural wing position, but how do they best develop these two rookie centers? And how can they improve while watching from the press box, or receiving limited minutes?
Over his past five games, Burakovsky has not skated more than 10 minutes, 39 seconds. He received just three total third-period shifts against Vancouver and Carolina, both close games late. Trotz hinted at protecting Burakovsky from unfavorable situations, cautioning against the toss-him-into-the-fire approach, but expressed confidence this recent lull would soon sort itself out.
“I’ve seen this before, where a young player, whatever I tell players is especially young guys, the first 10 games there’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of adrenaline, everything’s great, teams aren’t as structures, teams don’t have their games in order,” Trotz said. “I also believe it picks up at least a percent every game in terms of speed, thinking, intensity, all that, as you start out. You see them hit a little plateau, then they’ll fall a little into the valley, then they come back to the plateau and start building again. He’s 19 years old. He’s not 29. He’s 19. We caution ourselves all the time with making good decisions with the players and all that. “