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Andre Burakovsky still adjusting to being back at center

Andre Burakovsky. (Nick Wass/AP)

When he was still roommates with fellow Washington Capitals forwards Tom Wilson and Michael Latta, Andre Burakovsky would buy dinner whenever he scored the goal, a tradition all three followed. But it must not count in the preseason: Wilson didn’t buy dinner after his goal against Carolina on Monday, so Burakovsky didn’t plan to after he scored on his first shift in Montreal on Thursday.

Burakovsky will uphold this sacred pact come the regular season, even though he now has his own apartment, a personal step he was ready for in his second season with the Capitals. He also feels ready to play center again, even though he moved back to wing at the end of last season. Through two preseason games, Burakovsky said he’s enjoyed playing alongside new Capitals winger Justin Williams and that he’s more comfortable with the greater responsibility of centering a line.

“He has good work ethic and he’s very eager to learn,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s much stronger, which has really benefited him in the d-zone. He has to recognize a little bit more that there’s a real confined area, so when he does get the puck in the middle of the ice, sometimes you’ve just got to move it just a hair quicker and then get it back.”

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 fellow rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov in the second-line center competition, but as the season went on, his ice time dropped and Kuznetsov improved, solidifying himself as the team’s second-line center.

Trotz attributed Burakovsky playing sparingly in December to a lack of defensive-zone detail and strength along the walls. Burakovsky was reassigned to Hershey for 11 games in the spring, but he shined at wing in the Capitals’ second-round playoff series against the Rangers, notching three points across Games 3 and 4.

Burakovsky is likely to be the team’s second-line center on opening night if usual top-line center Nicklas Backstrom, recovering from hip surgery, misses the start of the regular season. The third-line center role is up for grabs, and Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, Jay Beagle, Michael Latta and Derek Roy, with the team on a professional tryout contract, are expected to receive looks there during training camp. Trotz also didn’t rule out moving Burakovsky back to wing during the season.

“I do feel a lot more comfortable,” Burakovsky said. “There’s still a lot of things to work on. Everything’s not perfect, so there’s a lot of stuff I have to watch on videos and learn and try to do better. But I think it’s been pretty good in this preseason so far.”

In Montreal on Thursday, Burakovsky had the goal and four shots on goal, but he struggled on face-offs, winning just 4 of 9. Williams had two assists and two shots on goal. It was an improvement from their first game together in Boston, when Williams was on the ice for both of Boston’s goals in the 2-1 loss.

“I think we have really good chemistry out there,” Burakovsky said. “We find each other good out there. It’s a lot of give-and-go, so I mean, it’s been good to play with him, and hopefully, we’re going to keep playing together.”

Said Williams: “Burky’s a really talented guy. That goes without saying. We’re just trying to work on our communication and talk as much as we can because we want to know where each other are. The more you talk, the less you’re going to have to talk later. You’re just going to know where he is.”