Not long ago André Burakovsky was considered one of the most promising prospects in the Caps’ organization. The 2013 23rd overall pick broke into the NHL in 2014 and enjoyed more than two years of relatively productive play and rising opportunity. Fast forward a few years, and Burakovsky now finds himself in trade rumors after four straight games as a healthy scratch. The question must be asked: what will the Caps do with André Burakovsky?
Burakovsky possesses immense skill, and it’s not hard to see why the Caps took him in the first round in 2013. The Swedish national is a speedy, creative winger with a great shot and a sneaky release. He scored 17 goals in his first full season in the NHL, an impressive total that suggested big things to come. It seems that every year is expected to be his breakout year, but Burakovsky has never truly lived up to his potential.
Since his first few seasons, Burakovsky has been plagued by injuries, including two broken hands and an undisclosed upper body injury that took him out for much of the last two seasons. Burakovsky hasn’t been the same player since, as he’s struggled to move up the lineup and produce points. At the same time, his younger teammate Jakub Vrana, a similarly fast and skilled offensive player, has blossomed into a top six forward, occupying a spot Burakovsky has failed to claim. When he has played, Burakovsky has found himself almost exclusively on the third and fourth lines, likely further damaging his confidence and production.
In fact, Burakovsky being a skill player sometimes makes it harder for Todd Reirden to play him consistently. He isn’t as skilled or effective offensively as Alex Ovechkin, Vrana, or T.J. Oshie, but he also isn’t as defensively responsible as the other bottom six options and doesn’t kill penalties, making Travis Boyd, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Dmitrij Jaskin all getting minutes ahead of Burakovsky. There just isn’t much room for Burakovsky when the Caps are healthy.
Burakovsky is on the second year of a two-year bridge deal he signed after his successful first few seasons, and he is due to become a restricted free agent this summer. A trade might seem beneficial to all parties: Burakovsky gets a chance to start fresh with a bigger role and the Caps likely get draft picks or depth at defenseman.
Trading him now, though, at a low point in his value, would be the wrong decision. For one thing, Burakovsky is still valuable if any of the Caps’ skill forwards get injured. Burakovsky has the ability to slot into the top six—and has, with Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson all missing significant time this year. Burakovsky’s most common linemates are Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, with whom he has registered an abysmal 41.7 percent shot attempt percentage. In his short time playing with Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie, that number improved to 63.3 percent, proving that an extended look in the top six may be all Burakovsky needs to get going.
Burakovsky is expected to play tonight on the third line with Eller and Connolly, and for now, trade talk seems to be preliminary at most. The Caps would be better served holding on to Burakovsky and trying to jumpstart his self-confidence. Let’s not forget this is the player who scored two goals in a crucial game 7 against Tampa that put the Caps in the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals. If they can get him going, Burakovsky could once again be considered a top young player with elite potential.