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Andre Burakovsky comfortable with playing both wing and center

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Not long after his rookie season with the Washington Capitals ended, an email pinged into the inbox of Andre Burakovsky, prescribing goals for the summer ahead. The message was a joint effort from Coach Barry Trotz and strength coach Mark Nemish, by no means singular to the 20-year-old forward; every player received some form of offseason training roadmap, but Burakovsky’s bullet points ran longer than most.

“Get a little bit heavier, stronger in the legs, first couple steps to be quicker, taking a hit better, balance through the core,” he said Tuesday. “It’s been a lot, but it’s been really good too.”

Day by day, little by little, Burakovsky began sensing progress in his exercises, and by the time his transatlantic flight landed in northern Virginia this week, he felt noticeably stronger in all the listed areas. This time last summer, Burakovsky was still considered an outside threat to make the NHL roster, a stringy teenager who dazzled at rookie camp but seemed bound for the Hershey Bears, at least for the start.

Then came the first round of cuts, and then the next, and with time Trotz made it increasingly known that Burakovsky would become the Capitals’ youngest player on the opening-night roster. He zigzagged around the lineup during 2014-15, enduring prolonged scratch streaks and even a reassignment to Hershey, but despite learning a new position and a new league finished third on Washington with 1.69 even-strength points per 60 minutes, behind only occasional linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

“It’s good, but I still have to work to get up in the lines,” Burakovsky said. “That’s what I want to do. Of course I’m going to do my job even if I’m fourth line or third line, but what I want is to be second line or first line. I’m going to work hard to get up there and I’m going to work real hard to have a good season.”

For now, given Backstrom’s uncertain health after hip surgery, Burakovsky appears poised to open camp at center, bouncing back to the middle after Trotz returned him to his native wing by the midway mark of last season. However, with NHL experience at both spots, Burakovsky felt comfortable accepting, if necessary, a jack-of-all-trades role among the forwards, his position and line deployment possibly depending on matchups. One night, he could leap into the top-six and play wing; the next, he could anchor the third line.

“I know what’s going to happen and I feel comfortable with how I’m going to start the season,” Burakovsky said. “No issues if I play center. I’m just going to go out there and do my job. I don’t care where I’m playing.

“Of course it’s always hard to be center, I think, you have to think a lot more and it’s tougher in D-zone. Wings have to cover their D’s, and centers have to be all over the ice. I think it’s a lot tougher to be center, but I like it a lot too. It doesn’t really matter to me. I like both. I got no problem with that. I just want to play and help the team win.”

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