Evgeny Kuznetsov vs. Andre Burakovsky

What do Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky have in common?

They’re poised to make a splash for the Washington Capitals in their first (full) NHL seasons. Neither is a natural centerman, but both have worked to adapt to the position under coach Barry Trotz. And both are in the running for second-line center.

But who is more qualified for the position? Who will be most successful?

It’s tough to predict offensive totals for rookies like Burakovsky, who shone in the uber-inflated OHL. Scoring runs high, and he was one of the league’s strongest offensive players. That’s not to say Burakovsky won’t be successful, but he had incredible linemates during his time with the Erie Otters. In Washington, he won’t be paired with a handful of scoring machines like Connor McDavid or Dane Fox. Trotz has penciled him in as the team’s 3C, where he’ll probably spend most minutes with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera–both effective, grinding, play-driving wingers.

In the OHL, Burakovsky played left wing. The Otters’ surplus of high-quality centers helped set him up (literally) to score 41 goals in 57 games. His 46 assists were also impressive, and hopefully indicative of his. If Burakovsky centers Ward and Chimera, he’ll be aiming to help Ward and Chimera continue their positive trends in scoring. In the preseason, he’s played his new position with a variety of linemates, even on the first line. Trotz is clearly pleased with the results and all but stated that his position on the team is secure.

So how likely is Burakovsky to steal the 2C spot from Kuznetsov?

Let’s turn to the statistics side of things (my efforts to track down fancy stats in major junior have been far from successful.)

Rob Vollman, author of Hockey Abstract, estimates Kuznetsov will score well above 40 points in his upcoming season (the specifics can be found here.) Kuznetsov made his NHL debut last spring, and put up nine points in 16 games. His offensive totals and position have been hotly debated since he was drafted in 2010. At present, it appears that Trotz will employ Kuznetsov as the team’s second-line center, a position that requires superb setup skills in addition to goal-scoring ability.

While Kuznetsov has been guilty of some egregious defensive lapses, Trotz seems fairly unconcerned with these growing pains. He described himself as “patient” in evaluating the rookies’ progress, adding that “in the long run, they’re going to get better and better as they play more and more.”

Slotting two rookie centers into the opening night lineup appears to be cause for concern. Strength down the middle has been lacking for the Caps in recent seasons. But both players have versatility, albeit in different ways. Each could revert to playing wing. And if Burakovsky struggles with bottom-six minutes at the NHL level, he’s still eligible to play in Hershey. Kuznetsov has multiple, successful seasons at the pro level under his belt, and he spent some of that time as a center.

However, a strong center must be able to win faceoffs. Neither Burakovsky nor Kuznetsov has excelled in winning the draw. If Trotz is correct and patience pays off, both will blossom into faceoff-winning machines. Faceoffs in particular seem to be tricky; Eric Fehr cited them as a reason for his discomfort at the center position. But there’s always the possibility that Burakovsky makes a strong case for the 2C role midway through the season, and he gets bumped up at Kuznetsov’s expense. Stranger things have happened (see: Beagle centering Ovechkin.) For the time being, however, Kuznetsov is arguably the best guy for the job.

About Margaret Stuart

Maryland native and Caps blogger. Twitter: @mpstuart16

Posted on October 3, 2014, in hockey, NHL, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. OHL scoring super inflated? Think of it this way: it’s the best junior league in the world. If players are putting up big numbers there at the age of 17, then you have to put them on a higher pedestal. Don’t discredit Burakovksy. He had incredible linemates in Eerie, but if go back and watch the tape you can see that he definitely wasn’t a passenger on the McDavid bus.

    • You’re correct, and to clarify, I wasn’t trying to discredit Burakovsky. I was making the point that high scoring in the OHL doesn’t always translate into high scoring in the NHL. It is true that his linemates in Erie were incredible, and he was also a fantastic player in his own right. But it’s unreasonable and unfair to expect him to perform at the same level in the NHL. If he does, great–if not, these things usually take time.

      • “Discredit” was the wrong word to use. I apologize for that. I’m not expecting him to concern at the same level. I guess what I’m ultimately trying to convey is that Burakovsky is a top talent and may actually have more of an impact this season than Kuznetsov. I’m not a Caps fan so I have no dog in this fight. The eye-ball tests tells me the Caps may have a future star on their club.

  2. Margaret Stuart

    No worries. I get what you’re saying, and I agree that Burakovsky is a top talent. Whether he’ll have more of an impact than Kuznetsov will be seen, but it’s a fair assertion to make.

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