Andre Burakovsky‘s junior team, the Erie Otters, kicked off the OHL Western conference finals against Guelph Storm on Thursday.
The series features the league’s two best regular-season teams and could become the best match-up of the playoffs, featuring three NHL first-round draft selections (Burakovsky, Brendan Gaunce, and Jason Dickinson) as well as three shoo-ins to be picked in the first round of either 2014 or 2015 (Robby Fabbri, Connor McDavid, and Dylan Strome).
Game One more than lived up to the hype: the teams combined for nine goals on 53 shots, trading the lead all game long. Guelph won 5-4 at home and retained home-ice advantage. Burakovsky, playing on the Otters second line with Strome and Michael Curtis, was the catalyst of Erie’s attacks, earning third star of the game honors.
In the second period, Burakovsky collected the puck behind the net, carried it to the half wall, avoided a big hit by Tyler Bertuzzi, then walked to the middle lane to fire from between the circles. His shot was deflected by Strome and found the back of the net, making the score 3-2 Otters less than half a minute after Brendan Gaunce erased the Storm’s lead.
Burakovsky is #95 in white.
In the third period, Burakovsky gave the Otters another lead, this time to make it 4-3. After corralling a pass from Curtis in the neutral zone, Burakovsky cut to the middle and fired a shot past Justin Nichols. Unfortunately for the young Swedish forward, that lead lasted for just 25 seconds until Bertuzzi tied the game again. Guelph’s Ryan Horvat would score the game winner soon thereafter.
Both of Burakovsky’s points came from him making the plays on the right wing (his off wing), where he’s been playing for some time now, developing chemistry with two left-handed forwards, Strome and Curtis. The gameplan for him is to use his stickhandling in traffic, cut to the middle of the ice, get the goalie on the move, and gain a good angle to shoot the puck. With his quick release, goaltenders are often unable to get square to the shooter in time.
Burakovsky rushed the puck up the ice on nearly every shift, helping his linemates to hem the opposition in their zone. OHL doesn’t track shot attempts, but Burakovsky seemed to spend the majority of his ice time in the offensive zone.
Here’s one of his rushes:
And here’s a long shift in the offensive zone:
Burakovsky also went beyond his responsibilities, getting physical in his own zone against Stephen Pierog, as well as six-foot-seven Justin Auger.
This was Burakovsky’s most complete performance I’ve seen all year. He was involved, he knew what he was doing in his own zone, and he played very smartly with the puck.
Burakovsky’s two-point performance solidified his position as the leader in playoff goals. He now has a two-goal advantage over Bertuzzi, his teammate Dane Fox, North Bay’s Nick Paul, and Barrie’s Brendan Lemieux (son of Claude).
Despite the loss, Burakovsky’s strong play in all zones is one of the reasons why it’s far too early for the Otters fans to panic. Otters and Storm will play in game two on Friday.