GLENDALE -- Alexander Burmistrov has made an immediate impact with the Coyotes since they claimed him off waivers earlier this month.
The 25-year-old Russian center has chipped in five assists over his first five games with Arizona, including two on Monday night in a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers.
"I love it here," Burmistrov said after Tuesday's practice. "The team and the guys have been great to me, and we've started playing better and we're getting on the winning track. Everyone's smiling more, and I'm really happy to be here and to be getting this opportunity."
The Coyotes snatched Burmistrov off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 2. The change of teams marked the end of his time with the Winnipeg franchise, an era that began when it drafted him eighth overall in 2010 as the Atlanta Thrashers. He played 298 games for them, but the Jets cut him loose this mid-season after playing him in just 23 games.
Needing help at center, the Coyotes immediately pounced on Burmistrov. General Manager John Chayka told reporters that claiming him was a rare unanimous decision among the team's hockey ops department and its scouts.
"He's filled a hole at center ice, where he's good with the puck, he can distribute the puck and (he's got) good skill and good vision," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "So there's that, but special teams, we're still working him into that. We've tried him in a couple different places and he's played both sides of special teams, so he's coming, but it's a work in progress still."
Burmistrov agrees and is taking things a step at a time.
"Right now I'm just trying to stay focused on each game," Burmistrov said. "I have to play good because the coaches and players put trust in you, and when you come to a new team it's a big opportunity and you don't want to lose that trust."
Tippett has used Burmistrov as a top-line center, and on the power play and the penalty kill, over the first five games. He was in Arizona's second threesome in the overtime on Monday vs. Florida, and he set up Tobias Rieder's game-winning goal with some hustle along the end boards and a nice back-handed pass.
Video: FLA@ARI: Rieder launches OT winner past Luongo
"He's getting some points that are meaningful points," Tippett said. "The two (on Monday) are big points for us. He wins a good face-off and the play he made in overtime was a great play. Not just the pass, but the ability to hold the puck, beat a guy one on one, those are things we're looking for more people to do."
Burmistrov liked being on the ice with the outcome of the game on the line.
"That's huge for me," Burmistrov said. "I always want to be a player who plays in key moments. They are trusting me, but you have to keep making them trust you."
Burmistrov grew up idolizing Russian NHLers, especially Pavel Datsyuk, who notched 314 goals and 604 assists in 953 games with the Detroit Red Wings before retiring from the League. Like Datsyuk, Burmistrov's goal-to-assist ratio in the NHL is about 1 to 2. He has 30 goals and 56 assists in 303 games.
"I want to score goals, too, bit I'm a center so I always look for my teammates and linemates," Burmistrov said. "If somebody has really good position to make a shot or score a goal, I'll pass for sure."
Burmistrov played one year of North American hockey, with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League in 2009-10, before being drafted and reaching the NHL in 2010-11. With Barrie, he notched 22 goals and 43 assists in 62 regular-season games. He also chipped in eight goals and eight assists in 17 playoff games as Barrie finished runner-up to Windsor in the OHL finals.
Burmistrov said his season in the OHL almost didn't happen because he seriously considered returning to Russia after a week or so with Barrie because he was homesick.
His billet family, headed by Rob and Mary Ferguson, played a huge role in convincing him to stay.
"It was tough," Burmistrov said. "I was 17 years old. I didn't speak English and there were no Russians. I started missing my family, and at one point I said 'Enough, I'm going home.' It was not easy, but my billet family helped me and made everything easier for me, so I decided to stay. It was a big decision and it ended up everything's good."
NOTE: The Fergusons also billeted former Coyotes players Raffi Torres and Rostislav Klesla, and current rookie Brendan Perlini.