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At the Rink: Canadiens at Capitals

by Adam Vingan / NHL.com

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals' second-line center position has been characterized by frequent turnover.

Mathieu Perreault, Mike Ribeiro and Mikhail Grabovski are some of the players to recently fill the spot.

The latest player in that position may be the most intriguing in recent memory.

Rookie Andre Burakovsky, a 19-year-old natural wing, will make his NHL debut Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens following a successful offseason transition to center.

"It's been a huge move for me," Burakovsky said. "I didn't know that it was supposed to go that fast. I think I've been playing really well and I've gotten a lot of help from my teammates too. I feel really comfortable with the center position more than the wing, so hopefully I stay at the center and do really good."

The Capitals were conscious of Burakovsky's offensive savvy upon selecting him at No. 23 in the 2013 NHL Draft. They asked the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, where Burakovsky played last season, to shift him from left wing to center, but because of Erie's depth down the middle, including top 2015 NHL Draft prospect Connor McDavid, it never happened.

Instead the Capitals started the move at development camp in July. The results, despite being delayed, were promising.

"We've had a number of discussions about his skill level and his ability to play the whole rink. He sure looked to us as a natural centerman," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. "We thought we'd try it this year and he's adapted really well."

Said Erie coach Kris Knoblauch: "He's very good with the puck and moving his feet when he has the puck. A lot of players tend to be standing around, but certainly when he gets that puck he's moving pretty well and he certainly has to use that to his advantage."

After several seasons of second-line center stopgaps, the Capitals are optimistic about Burakovsky offering a more permanent solution.

"He's really a good player," coach Barry Trotz said. "Got good instincts; competitive instincts. He's also got the offensive and the defensive instincts of a young player; comes pretty naturally to him. There's not many areas of his game where there's a lot of panic. There's lot of poise for a young man."

On defense Washington will be without Mike Green, who said he is "just not quite there" as he recovers from an upper-body injury sustained during a preseason game against the Boston Bruins on Sept. 26.

Trotz does not expect the defenseman to miss significant time.

"If he doesn’t play on Saturday [against the Boston Bruins]," Trotz said, "I don't think he'll be much past that."

Here are the projected lineups for the Canadiens and Capitals:

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau

Alex Galchenyuk - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher

Rene Bourque - Lars Eller - Jiri Sekac

Brandon Prust - Manny Malhotra - Travis Moen

Alexei Emelin - P.K. Subban

Andrei Markov - Tom Gilbert

Nathan Beaulieu - Mike Weaver

Dustin Tokarski

Carey Price

Scratched: Dale Weise, Michael Bournival, Jarred Tinordi

Injured: None

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Eric Fehr

Marcus Johansson - Andre Burakovsky - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward

Liam O'Brien - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Chris Brown

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Jack Hillen - Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

Scratched: Michael Latta, John Erskine

Injured: Tom Wilson (fractured left fibula), Jay Beagle (upper body), Aaron Volpatti (upper body), Mike Green (upper body), Dmitry Orlov (wrist)

Status Report: O'Brien will join Burakovsky in making his NHL debut. The 20-year-old undrafted free agent invitee to training camp earned an entry-level contract after an impressive preseason. … Tokarski will start Thursday after Price made 24 saves in Montreal's 4-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Who's Hot: Plekanec scored twice Wednesday against the Maple Leafs, including the game-winning goal with 42.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

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