He said that he found some chemistry with winger and fellow Swede Marcus Johansson in practice.
“It felt good out there,” Burakovsky said. “It’s a lot more responsibility, but it felt good.”
Trotz said after Saturday’s training camp session that putting Burakovsky at center is related to wanting his highest skill players at the position and “just in case” Backstrom is out at the start of the season, though if Burakovsky plays well in that role, he could stay there. Trotz said he’s not worried about moving him from wing to center and back throughout the season.
“We know we can always move him back to the wall, or maybe we can keep him at center,” Trotz said. “If he does such a good job, maybe you start moving him around during the year. I think playing center ice is good for everybody. We’re going to start him at center ice, then let him do his thing.”
The Capitals switched the 20-year-old from wing to center last summer after he had only played wing in junior hockey. He initially beat out Kuznetsov in the second-line center competition, but as the season went on, his ice time dropped and Kuznetsov got hot, solidifying himself as the team’s second-line center.
Through the first 15 games, Burakovsky had notched 12 points, but in December he played sparingly, which Trotz attributed to a lack of defensive-zone detail and strength along the walls. He was reassigned to Hershey for 11 games in the spring. He shined at wing in the Capitals’ second-round playoff series against the Rangers, notching three points across Games 3 and 4.
The third-line center role is up for grabs, and Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, Jay Beagle, Michael Latta and Derek Roy are expected to receive looks there during training camp.
“I’m kind of used to being both,” he said. “Of course, it was a little tough at the beginning last year but I think it went better and better for every game and right now, I kind of know how to play. Wing, I’ve been playing it my whole life so it’s not an issue to go back and play wing. The hardest part is center and wing is just natural. But I think center is going better and I feel comfortable with the position so it’s going to be good.”
General Manager Brian MacLellan said at the end of last season that Burakovsky is “a natural center,” but can play anywhere. With his first season in the books, Burakovsky said he’s more comfortable at any position just by virtue of experience.
“Now I can kind of know how the league works, how it is to play in the NHL,” Burakovsky said. “I’m starting to get used to this. Training camp started good, and I feel good out there. Last year, I was kind of nervous to go into training camp but now I feel comfortable with the situation here. I’m really looking forward to the season starting, getting ready and hopefully help out the team all season.”