WASHINGTON--The 2019-20 season is only a few weeks old, but forward Andre Burakovsky has been a key contributor in each game that the Colorado Avalanche has played in.
Burakovsky has recorded five points in the first five outings of the year and scored the game-winning goal in back-to-back contests earlier in the week. He tallied the go-ahead marker on Thursday against the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins and then recorded his second career overtime tally on Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes.
The quality of Burakovsky's shot was on full display versus the Coyotes, as well as his hockey sense. After gathering the puck near the boards, he flew by a flat-footed Arizona player before firing a hard wrister over the goaltender's shoulder to end the contest.
"I was just patient on the wall, just trying to wait for something and then just try and take it to the net," Burakovsky said of the overtime-winner. "I don't know why [the Coyotes player] wasn't skating with me, but I became wide open and I just needed to put it in."
His two deciding tallies in a matter of 48 hours made him the first Avalanche player to record the game-winner in back-to-back outings since Gabriel Landeskog did that early last season on Oct 18-20, 2018 at the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes.
Video: ARI@COL: Burakovsky roofs game-winning shot in OT
But while Burakovsky has come up clutch recently, he isn't satisfied with where his own game is at presently, recognizing there are still plenty of areas where improvement is needed.
"I need to be strong on the puck. I need to manage the puck a lot better, make better plays," said Burakovsky following the win versus Arizona. "Obviously just going to learn from this and keep going. There are always going to be games where you're not feeling comfortable with the puck and stuff and tonight was one of those nights, but it was nice to find the back of the net again."
Born in Klagenfurt, Austria, but raised in Sweden, the forward is in his first season with the Avalanche after being acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals on June 28. He's been acclimating to his new environment during the early weeks of the season as playing in D.C. had been the only thing that he had known since being picked 23rd overall by the Caps in the 2013 draft.
Video: BOS@COL: Burakovsky goes end-to-end for sweet goal
It has been an adjustment in not only the on-ice perspective with learning a brand-new system and the tendencies of his new teammates, but also getting settled with life away from the rink.
Helping with that transition is the fact that he isn't going at it alone, as he is one of six new players that the Avalanche brought in over the summer. Both of his current linemates are in the same situation as Joonas Donskoi (San Jose Sharks) and Nazem Kadri (Toronto Maple Leafs) also had only played for one franchise prior to joining the Avs.
"We're a line that just wants to grow every game. We're all new. We're all new to the Avs system, we're all new to each other," Burakovsky said. "It's only going to be new in the beginning. We're trying to read off each other. If you play with a guy for 40 games, you're going to kind of know what he is going to do."
The trio has made up the team's second line for the past three games and playing in that top-six role was what Burakovsky was looking forward to in coming to Colorado. He wanted to play more minutes and let his skill shine.
He's had some success in the past, as he recorded 17 goals and 38 points in 2015-16 with Washington and followed up that campaign with 35 points the next year. The Swede also scored some key postseason goals in his time in the U.S. capital, including tallying twice in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals en route to helping the club win its first Stanley Cup two weeks later.
"I think I've shown before what kind of player I am and what I can do," Burakovsky said during training camp. "Just the last couple years, the ice time has been a little low. It's tough to come out there in seven minutes and try and create something right away. You kind of have to be out there, have a rhythm to get going, and I think that is something I've been missing in the last two years. I think I've been playing really good games. Right now, I'm just excited to get out and get a real opportunity and show the league what I can do."
The Avalanche has given the 24-year-old that chance, and he's playing alongside other skilled players on a squad that is one of the youngest in the NHL. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen all scored at least 30 goals last season, and each are in their early to mid-20's.
"This is a young team, but if you look at the previous years, this is definitely a team that is on its way to the top," Burakovsky said. "The guys in here are incredible hockey players… Just look at the numbers last year, this is a really fast team. On turnovers, they create something really quick and that is something I want to do too. I think it's a good fit for me."
Video: Andre Burakovsky on joining the Avalanche
This year's campaign is still young, but the schedule makers seemed to have planned Burakovsky's return to Washington at the perfect time. Monday's game was his first against his former teammates in the city where he called home for 328 games from 2014-2019, and he headed into it on a high note following his recent strong performances.
There was no wading into the matchup either. Bednar sent Burakovsky's line out for the opening faceoff, with him lining up against Tom Wilson, his friend and old housemate. The Caps later paid tribute to their former player with a highlight video during a media timeout in the first period.
"Of course I was a little nervous," he said afterward of playing in his old home barn. "I was going up against all of my old teammates. It's not easy, it was a little emotional coming back. I spent five years here and come back and play against everyone that I'm really good friends with. It's not easy, it's tough, but I think it was alright."
Video: Andre Burakovsky after the Avs' win in Washington
The Washington faithful wasn't so happy later in the evening as Colorado raced out to a 4-0 lead and went on to win 6-3 to improve to 5-0-0 on the season. Burakovsky had an assist on Erik Johnson's game-opening tally and also finished with three shots on net, three blocked shots and one takeaway in his return to D.C.
"We said before the game that we needed a big start, and we came out really strong in the first period. I think that was the key to the win tonight, we came out hard and they didn't," Burakovsky said. "They came back in the second period, but I think we found a way to get it done… I mean 5-0, it's a pretty good start."
The victory was no doubt a bit bittersweet for Burakovsky as he was usually celebrating or lamenting down the Capital One Arena hallway with his friends following games. However, his chance now allows him to grow as a player.
"I really loved D.C., everything and all the guys. They're friends I'm never going to forget," Burakovsky said recently. "I'm really tight with a lot of those players, but for me coming here, I get a new opportunity, a fresh start. That is all I wanted. I wanted to come to a team that really believes in me and lets me play and give me an opportunity to show good I can be."
So far, the early results have been positive for him and his Colorado club.