Today is turning into a bit of a newsy day here at Kettler. Hours after the announcement of Olie Kolzig’s promotion from associate goaltending coach to the team’s goaltending coach, the Caps have made a noteworthy contract signing.
Just over two months after being drafted with Washington’s first choice (23rd overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, right wing Andre Burakovsky has inked his three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals today.
The 18-year-old Burakovsky played for Malmo in the Swedish first division last season, but he is expected to play for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League for the upcoming campaign. Burakovsky reported to Erie’s training camp last week and will be in attendance at the Capitals’ rookie and training camps this month.
Just under two months ago, Burakovsky made his first trip to the District to participate in Washington’s annual summer development camp.
“I think this camp has been good for me,” he told me upon the conclusion of camp. “It’s hard to get over here and play in the small rink. The rink is much bigger in Sweden. You have more space and more time with the puck. I think I learned the game over here pretty good and am starting to get better. I think this week has been pretty good.”
If it was hard getting used to playing on a smaller ice surface, the Caps threw another wrinkle at the young forward. A winger by trade, Burakovsky skated as a center during his week at camp in July.
“I’m not really a centerman; I’m a right winger,” he said in July. “But I think it went pretty good. I’m not the best guy in the [defensive] zone and stuff, but I try. I do my best. I’m a guy who wants the puck a lot and I think I get the puck a lot in the middle. I enjoyed being a centerman and I had good wings, too.”
The Caps had reasons for trying the teenager out in the middle of the ice.
“We know he’s smart, we know he can skate and we know he is skilled,” says Caps director of player development Steve Richmond. “We figured, let’s find out now if he’s a center. Good, skilled centers are hard to find, as we know here in Washington. We figured we’d watch him for a week, see how he does there and see if he can become an NHL centerman.
“It’s an adjustment for him. It’s a smaller rink and the back-pressure you get here is something you don’t get in Sweden. He tried to do a little too much individually, but he’ll learn. In Sweden, they don’t chip pucks in and go get them. He’ll learnb that with his speed and smarts he can chip pucks by guys and go get them because they can’t touch him. It’s an adjustment for him and he got better as the camp went along.”
In the middle of that week of camp in July, Burakovsky met with members of the Erie front office who made a pilgrimage to D.C. in an effort to convince him to play for their club this season rather than in Sweden.
“I talked a little bit with Erie’s GM,” said Burakovsky in July. “I think that was a good [talk] for me. He talked a little bit about why they want me so much. I’m going to play with Connor McDavid; he’s a really good player. They really trust that I can help them a lot and help lead the team. I’m going to go home, talk with my agent, hopefully talk a little bit more with Washington and then we have to make a decision if I am going to go over and play for Erie or stay home in Sweden and play. I don’t know.”
Their efforts were apparently successful. Burakovsky has been playing with McDavid at Otters camp. The 16-year-old McDavid is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Burakovsky signing coincides with the first day of practice at Washington’s annual preseason rookie camp. Burakovsky is one of a couple dozen youthful Caps hopefuls who will grace the Kettler Capitals Iceplex sheet here this afternoon at 4:15 for the start of 2013-14 rookie camp. Rookie camp will conclude on Monday with an afternoon scrimmage against the Philadelphia Flyers’ rookies at Kettler.