Charting the proper course for Burakovsky

Charting the proper course for Burakovsky
July 2, 2013, 10:45 am
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Burakovsky: I wanna be like Backstrom

When Capitals Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney went to Sweden to see Andre Burakovsky last season, he saw a talented but frustrated 18-year-old left wing who couldn’t earn the ice time he felt he deserved.

“It was hard for him,” Mahoney said Sunday night, hours after the Caps made Burakovsky their first pick of the 2013 NHL draft at No. 23 overall.

“He was playing with men. Some of the games I saw he was on the third or fourth line. The coach was playing the veterans and in close games he wasn’t playing as much.”

Burakovsky was equally discouraged, knowing his dream of playing in the NHL was predicated on his play as an 18-year-old.

“I wanted to prove to the coach every day that it was wrong to put me on the bench,” he said. “I think I finished the season pretty good and we got into the next season [playoffs].”

Actually, it was his play for Sweden’s Under-18 national team that led to him being ranked sixth by the International Scouting Service. Burakovsky recorded 10 goals and 17 assists in 16 games for Sweden’s team and showed his superior creativity.

Known for his ability to carry the puck and pick corners with a lightning-quick release, Burakovsky was high enough on the Capitals’ draft list to make their decision to take him at No. 23 an easy one.

“He has tremendous skill,” Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “We like the way he plays, but this kid is going to take a little more time to develop and that’s OK. “We’ll take our time and do it right and the end product will be pretty good.”

The Capitals have shown incredible patience with their first-round draft picks in recent years. Nicklas Backstrom, taken fourth overall in 2006, played a year in Sweden before joining the Caps. So did Marcus Johansson, who was taken 24th in 2009. The Caps will need to wait four years before they see first-round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov come from Russia.

In fact, since 2002 only one player taken by the Caps in the first round has played for them the following season. That happened this year when Tom Wilson suited up for three playoff games less than a year after the Caps took him 16th overall.

McPhee said he thought Burakovsky might have been “over his head” playing for Malmo last season. It has not yet been decided whether he will return for Sweden for another year or two, or play in major Canadian junior next season.

“Junior’s not quite enough and the men’s league is too much,” McPhee said. “So we need to find the right place for him.”

Burakovsky was born in Austria, where his father, Robert, played one season as a right wing for Klagenfurt. The family moved back to Sweden the following year. Robert Burakovsky’s career took him to Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Italy before he retired as a player in 2003-04 and began coaching Malmo’s Under-16 team.

“My dad means a lot to me,” Burakovsky said. “He’s helped me a lot in my hockey career so far. We talk every day. He’s a big, big reason I am sitting here with this jersey on today. He was almost crying when they said my name.”

Burakovsky, a 6-foot-1, 179-pounder, said he grew up a Capitals fan, mostly because he enjoyed watching Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom. Burakovsky said he still needs to work on his defensive game, but compared his playing style to Backstrom.

“I think I have a little bit more speed and he’s a smaller player than me,” he said. “He’s a fantastic player and some day I really want to be like him.”

Shortly after meeting with reporters, Burakovsky took a congratulatory phone call from Ovechkin. His hand was shaking and his face was glowing as he spoke with the Capitals’ captain and 2013 Hart Trophy winner.

“It was a dream as a little boy to talk to some big players,” he said. “He’s an NHL star and one of the best and I’m really happy to talk to hm. He said he’s really glad I’m coming to Washington and he wants to meet me. He’s a really good guy and I want to meet him.”

Burakovsky is likely to participate in the Capitals’ development camp from July 8-13 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“I will work hard every day to get to Washington,” he said. “I think maybe two years I’ll be ready.”