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Capitals' Burakovsky pleased with his playoff debut

by Katie Brown

ARLINGTON, Va. -- On the first shift of Washington Capitals rookie forward Andre Burakovsky's Stanley Cup Playoff debut, he nearly scored the first goal of the game.

After sitting the first three games of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Islanders, Burakovsky filled in for the injured Eric Fehr in Game 4, which the Capitals won 2-1 in overtime at Nassau Coliseum.

Fehr, who left Game 3 with an upper-body injury, is expected to miss at least one more game.

"I just try and prove every day in practice and in games that I don't belong in the press box," Burakovsky said. "[The] last couple games I've been up there watching the games, and it's fun to be back playing. I still think I had a pretty good game."

Burakovsky played 11:06, including three shifts in overtime. He had one shot on goal, one hit, and 24 seconds of power-play time.

"He wasn't overwhelmed by the moment," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "That's one thing about [Burakovsky] ... he didn't get overwhelmed. I liked his puck management. I thought he played and managed the puck and skated the way I wanted, and defensively, he did a good job. I was really happy with him."

Burakovsky didn't have any trouble adjusting to the frenetic pace of playoff hockey.

"It's going a lot faster," Burakovsky said. "I don't really mind that. I kind of like the fast games. I like the speed. You need to keep your head up all the time. You can't really afford to [make] any mistakes, so you need to be really focused all the time."

The 23rd pick at the 2013 NHL Draft, Burakovsky quickly distinguished himself as one of Washington's top prospects, making the move from Sweden to the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, where he played with top-ranked 2015 draft prospect Connor McDavid. In 57 games with Erie in the 2013-14 season, Burakovsky scored 41 goals and had 87 points.

Burakovsky made the Capitals out of training camp. Trotz hoped Burakovsky and fellow rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov could fill Washington's holes at the center position.

Kuznetsov quickly adapted to the center position, but Burakovsky's speed seemed throttled by the position change. In Game 4, Burakovsky played left wing, so the change to center may be on hold for now.

Trotz wants to ensure Burakovsky's development, so he sent the 20-year-old to Hershey of the American Hockey League whenever he thought the forward needed more playing time. Burakovsky was recalled from Hershey on April 5 on an emergency basis.

Trotz said none of the demotions were performance-based. While coaching the Nashville Predators, Trotz took a similar approach with Filip Forsberg, a player to whom Burakovsky is often compared. Forsberg finished third in the NHL in rookie scoring for the 2014-15 season.

Burakovsky had 22 points in 53 games his rookie season. Two of his nine goals were game-winners.

For now, Burakovsky is simply making the most of every opportunity and trying to learn as much as he can.

"It was my first year, and I'm here to learn and develop my first year," he said. "I've just been watching Nick [Backstrom] and [Alex] Ovechkin and the other guys, [Marcus] Johansson and [Troy] Brouwer. It's been really, really important for me. I've been watching and learning a lot from these guys. That's been helping me a lot this year."

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