When the Avalanche traded for Andre Burakovsky during the offseason, they were betting on the potential of what he could become rather than what he had already accomplished in his young career.
Colorado traded a second- and third-round draft pick, a steep price, to the Washington Capitals for a player that had scored just 12 goals in each of his last three seasons. But the Avs knew there was so much more he can bring to the table.
All he needed was the opportunity. And he got that from Avs GM Joe Sakic and coach Jared Bednar
“Right away when Joe and coach called me during the summer right after the trade, they told me that they want me to be a top-six player, they want me to have a way higher role,” Burakovsky said. “They told me don’t worry about ice time you’re going to play way more than you have in the past. They said they knew that I hadn’t gotten the opportunities that maybe I should have had or wanted. And they said don’t worry about that, you’re gonna get that here.”
During his time with the Capitals, the biggest opportunity Burakovsky got was in 2017-18—the year Washington won the Stanley Cup. He logged 13:50 of five-time per game, scoring 12 goals and producing 25 points in just 56 games.
But last year, his ice-time dipped to a career-low 11:08. The writing was on the wall that his time in the nation’s capital was coming to an end. But what affected the 24-year-old the most was the lack of confidence he had in his game.
“When your ice-time goes down to nine or 10 minutes and you’re not playing much, you don’t play good in that role if you are a scorer,” Burakovsky recalls. “You want to be out there to be productive and help the team win. I think my best way to do that is offensively and when you start questioning yourself like ‘what’s going on, why is it not working, why are you not playing more,’ then you start questioning everything, you lose confidence and get into your struggles.”
Burakovsky has seen his ice-time and his offensive production both rise in his first season with the Avs. The former 2013 first-round draft pick has played 15:46 per game with Colorado and has seen over 18 minutes of ice-time in each of the past five games.
After scoring his first power-play goal of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, Burakovsky reached 11 goals, one less than he scored in each of the past three seasons, in just 23 games. His 21 points means he’s operating at a 75-point pace which would shatter his career-high of 38 back in 2015-16.
The Swedish forward has scored 10 goals at even-strength, the same amount as stars such as Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. Burakovsky is tied for sixth in the league in that department.
“I’ve been productive,” he said. “Maybe before the season started I wouldn’t think I’d be one of the best in the league in even-strength goals in late November but obviously that’s a good sign.”
Most importantly for Burakovsky, he feels like he has more to give offensively in all aspects of the game. For example, he says his lack of power-play production is a result of him not shooting as much as he should be—a lack of taking advantage of opportunities he may have while on the man-advantage.
“I think I want to score more everywhere,” Burakovsky confidently explains. “I want to score more 5-on-5, I want to score more on the power play, I want to score all the time. But I think on the power play I could shoot a little bit more. It’s just something I have to recognize a little quicker while I’m out there. But I think 5-on-5 it’s been good.”
“I think a lot of it comes from confidence. When you feel good about yourself the game is going good, but when you’re questioning yourself a little bit then that’s when you start struggling,”
Burakovsky’s recent rise in ice-time may be the direct result of injuries to top players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog. It could also be because he’s scored nine points in the past five games. But the trust Bednar has in the first-year Av shows in the way in which he’s utilizing him.
“He wants me to be out there on the power play, 4-on-4, in overtime and when it comes down to us needing a goal at the end, he puts me out there,” Burakovsky said. “It just shows that he thinks I have those tools and that brings confidence to myself. I’m feeling comfortable about my game since I got here, I haven’t questioned myself at all.”
For Sakic, Burakovsky was a little bit of a reclamation project. One that if presented with the right opportunity, could possibly grow into a productive top forward in the NHL.
But for Burakovsky it was never a question.
All he needed was the opportunity.