WASHINGTON -- Andre Burakovsky couldn't help cracking a smile when he lined up for the opening face-off across from his good friend and former roommate Tom Wilson on Monday.
"He asked me right away if I wanted to go," Burakovsky said. "I said, 'I'm ready.'"
Burakovsky and Wilson didn't fight, but Burakovsky had a fun start and a happy ending in his return to Capital One Arena as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. The 24-year-old forward had an assist, and the Avalanche (5-0-0) defeated the Washington Capitals 6-3.
[WATCH: All Avalanche vs. Capitals highlights]
Playing his first game against Washington since being traded to Colorado by the Capitals on June 28, Burakovsky experienced some nerves playing against a team full of friends he won the Stanley Cup with in 2018, but the playful exchange with Wilson -- and taking a 4-0 lead in the opening 9:25 -- helped settle him down quickly.
"It is a little emotional coming back," Burakovsky said. "I spent five years here and just coming back and playing against everyone that I'm really good friends with, it's not easy. It's tough. But I think it was nice to get out here with a win too."
Burakovsky, Washington's first-round pick (No. 23) in the 2013 NHL Draft, is getting exactly what he wanted with the Avalanche: an expanded role and the opportunity to become a key offensive contributor after he stagnated the past few seasons with the Capitals. Skating at left wing on Colorado's second line with Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi, Burakovsky has two goals and three assists in his first five games.
Burakovsky was a key contributor on Colorado's first goal Monday, going to the net after passing to Kadri to provide a pivotal screen in front of goalie Braden Holtby on defenseman Erik Johnson's shot from the left point that made it 1-0 at 3:42 of the first period. Burakovsky also plays on the second power-play unit, boosting his ice time average to 13:22 this season.
"I'm just trying to play my game and just trying to do as good as I can," Burakovsky said. "I've been getting some opportunities here, playing power play and putting up some minutes, so I'm feeling way more involved in the game and it feels good."
Video: Avalanche start fast, top Caps to remain undefeated
Burakovsky didn't always feel that way with the Capitals. Playing mostly on the third or fourth line last season, he had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) while averaging 11:08 in ice time in 76 regular-season games.
After trading Burakovsky to the Avalanche for a second-round pick and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and minor-league forward Scott Kosmachuk (who was not re-signed as an unrestricted free agent), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Burakovsky requested to be traded before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25, preferably to a team that would allow him to play on the top two lines.
Burakovsky disputed that he requested a trade, but acknowledged he wanted a bigger role.
"I kind of wanted to play more and if that wouldn't be with the Caps, then it would be somewhere else," Burakovsky said. "I want to take the next step in my career and be a successful player and I think I could do that with the Avalanche. They're giving me the opportunity for it, so it feels great to have that."
During his five seasons with Washington, Burakovsky had 145 points (62 goals, 83 assists) in 328 regular-season games and 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 56 Stanley Cup Playoff games. But he struggled to find consistency in his game and reach the next level as a player after setting NHL career-highs with 17 goals and 38 points in 2016-17.
Burakovsky scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons while he was in and out of the lineup, sometimes because of injuries and sometimes as a healthy scratch.
Trying to live up to expectations, Burakovsky was sometimes hardest on himself, which contributed to his inconsistency and extended slumps. That is one of the reasons he began to work with a sports psychologist in 2016.
Last season, Burakovsky didn't have a point in the first eight games. He didn't score his second goal until his 17th game.
Still, he has always had a knack for scoring timely goals. Four of his 12 goals last season and five of his 12 in 2017-18 were game-winners.
After being a healthy scratch for Game 5 of 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Burakovsky returned to the lineup for Game 6 and scored twice in a 4-0 win in Game 7. He also had four assists during the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, including one on Lars Eller's Cup-winning goal in Game 5.
"He was a young player in this League, and that can be a lot on the mental capacity of a player and a person and lots of pressure coming in as a guy that's supposed to produce," Wilson said. "That being said, he scored a lot of big goals for us and helped us win the hardest trophy arguably to win. So I think he did a great job.
"It just was time for a little bit of a fresh start and maybe a mental reset."
The Avalanche have seen Burakovsky's potential already. He wired a turnaround shot from the left circle past Boston Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak and in off the far post for the winning goal in a 4-2 victory Thursday and aggressively took the puck to the net from the left circle to beat Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta high to the short side for the winner 3:29 into overtime in a 3-2 victory Saturday.
"He's been good," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "We acquired him and a couple other guys because we wanted some secondary scoring in our lineup, and adding some size and skating ability with a guy like Andre I think was really important. And he's come up big for us already: back-to-back game-winning goals, he's playing a big role on our power play and five-on-five.
"Right now, he's as advertised, exactly what we needed."