While the Washington Capitals’ past season was an unmitigated disaster, there was one bright spot located about 364 miles northwest of the district in Erie, Pennsylvania. Unheralded 2013 first round draft pick Andre Burakovsky had a breakout year with the OHL’s Erie Otters. His rapid development in Erie could launch him into the NHL next season.
But things could have gone very differently. Last July, after being selected fifth overall by the Otters in the CHL Draft, Burakovsky revealed disappointment with the decision, telling a local reporter, “this is not what I had in mind.” The young Swede, who spent the season before playing for the Malmo Redhawks of the HockeyAllsvenskan, did not want to join the OHL team.
It wasn’t until some convincing from then-GM George McPhee that Burakovsky signed on to play for the Otters, who were led by future 2015 first overall draft pick Connor McDavid.
Speaking to Uffe Bodin of hockeysverige.se, Burakovsky explained just how happy he was with that decision.
“This has absolutely been the best season in my career,” Burakovsky said to Bodin and translated by friend-of-the-blog Jake Ware. “Apart from a dip after the World Juniors, I have played great all season.”
“Before I was unsure of the level of hockey, but it was much better than I expected,” he continued. “This is the best junior league in the world, and you can understand why they call it the ‘little NHL.’ The arenas are full and so loud.”
How good was Burakovsky last season? He set a Swedish record in the Canadian junior league by posting 87 points (41 goals, 46 assists) in 57 games. He followed that up with 10 goals in 14 playoff games before Erie was eliminated in the Conference Finals by the eventual champion, the Guelph Storm.
Now back in his hometown of Malmö, Burakovsky has set his sights set on training camp this fall with the Washington Capitals. He has had contact with management and the feedback has been very positive.
“The scouts have been really pleased with my development and think I have taken great steps,” he said. “They’ve said I’m close to breaking onto the team. It feels awesome to hear that. The NHL is a huge dream and now it feels like I’m quite close to it. It gives me extra motivation in training for next season.”
In fact, Burakovsky has been working out manically at home in Sweden– he conducted this interview after a dryland session with his personal trainer Jonas Morin. After spending the entire season with Erie, he hopes to at least get a taste of the NHL next year.
“As a junior player you can play nine NHL games without the contract kicking in and I could see myself getting that now,” he said. “But I have to have a really good camp first. I did last year.”
Since Burakovsky was drafted from Europe and not North America, he can play in the AHL even though he is still junior-eligible. That will likely happen if he doesn’t make the Washington roster in the fall.
“Hershey might be an alternative, but of course that’s not where I want to be,” Burakovsky said. “The NHL is the goal, and I know it will be tough, but that is my number one priority. Hershey is the next alternative.”
He added, “[Management] will decide what is best for me.”
The 19-year-old plans to attend Caps Development Camp held in mid-July. Before then, he hopes to have rid himself of a shoulder injury he picked up during the final game of the season.
“I got tackled after they [Guelph] scored and separated my shoulder,” Burakovsky revealed. “I was supposed to be out four-to-five weeks, but it already feels much better. I just haven’t been able to train my upper-body, I’ve had to focus on my legs.”
Burakovsky, who has a summer full of rigorous training ahead of him, plans to add muscle mass.
“If I want to break into the NHL I have to be stronger in my whole body,” he said. “Both so I can take and give out a big hit.”
Translation by Jake Ware.