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Burakovsky ready to challenge for spot with Capitals

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Life was a series of adjustments for Andre Burakovsky last season.

In migrating to the Ontario Hockey League from Sweden, the Erie Otters forward and Washington Capitals prospect thrust himself into a completely foreign situation.

His schedule became consumed by hockey, leaving him with little free time outside the rink. On the ice the smaller playing surface presented its own challenges, particularly when it came to proper positioning and keeping pace with the speed of the game.

Burakovsky, attending Washington's development camp this week, characterized his first several games with Erie as "really, really bad."

"I was wondering how I could play so well the year before then come over here and nothing really worked for me," he said. "It takes time to learn the game. You don't just learn it one day. It takes weeks."

To those around him, though, whatever struggles he may have had were negligible.

"If he had problems at the beginning," Erie coach Kris Knoblauch said, "he didn't show them."

Burakovsky thrived in his first season in the OHL, with 41 goals and 87 points in 57 games.

Washington's first-round pick (No. 23) at the 2013 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old has realistic aspirations of challenging for a roster spot come training camp in September.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to have a chance to play some games in the NHL," Burakovsky said. "I don't know. I had the chance to play some games last year, some preseason [games], I think I did really good there and I think the OHL was really good for me too. I think I might be ready to at least try to take the next step to the NHL."

Burakovsky was not the only potent player among Erie's stable of gifted forwards.

The Otters boasted three of the four leading scorers in the OHL, including top scorer and OHL MVP Connor Brown, and 2015 NHL Draft prospect Connor McDavid.

Burakovsky was able to distinguish himself with his quick release.

"What really separated him was his wrist shot when he was on the rush," Knoblauch said. "He scored numerous goals just using the defenseman as a screen and shooting it through his legs and beating the goaltender. With his wrist shot that's certainly something that the other players, as good as they were, couldn't do."

Knoblauch and Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney each pinpointed building strength so Burakovsky can better absorb contact as the next step in the forward's development.

Burakovsky (6-foot-1, 178 pounds) was not overpowering opposing players, according to Knoblauch, but his natural athleticism carried him through.

"Knowing the type of person he is, he's working as hard as he can right now to be able to come into camp and not have strength be an issue for him," Mahoney said last month.

Burakovsky's intended destination for next season will be determined in the fall. A stint with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League seems likeliest, but a recent injury to Tom Wilson -- surgery to repair a fractured left fibula could keep him out until training camp but no return date has been set -- could open a roster spot.

"The plan is I'm going to watch him," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of Burakovsky. "I don't know him. I've got to know him. I don't have any plan for him.

"If Burakovsky is ready to play and I can get him quality ice time, then he'll play. If I don't feel I can get him quality ice time then he'll probably go to Hershey, that type of thing. We just have to let it play out."

What the Capitals do know is that they are satisfied with Burakovsky's maturation and are intrigued by his future role within the organization.

"I'm excited to see how he does at training camp," Mahoney said. "Andre's definitely on the right path. Very, very pleased with his progression. I'm really looking forward to him coming to training camp and seeing how he does."

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