The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eleven writers and 480 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2019 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
Mile High Hockey welcomes Andre Burakovsky to the Top 25 Under 25 for the first and last time as the newly acquired 24-year-old will be aging out of the series next summer. Burakovsky has always been a very polarizing player among hockey fans dating all the way back to his time with the Washington Capitals. People weren’t sure if he was ever going to realize his offensive potential, even when all the tools and ability were right there. The puck just never went in for him.
During his time in Washington, Burakovsky was forced to play a lesser role than what he arguably should’ve been given due to the team being in a position to win a Stanley Cup and and had loaded up on veteran talent instead. To be clear, that was the right move to make because the team got their long-awaited championship and no one can take that away from them.
But now it’s Burakovsky’s time to shine, and with a one-year “show me” contract from Joe Sakic, this is the best of the few chances he’s got.
Size, Shooting, Skill
Burakovsky was the highly skilled power forward from junior hockey that no one thought would have had difficulty making the transition to the NHL. For a player of his stature, his agility and speed is impressive. His stride is comfortable, he has excellent acceleration, and his breakaway speed is bar none. Burakovsky has a quick-releasing powerful shot, has tremendous puck-handling abilities at top speeds, and deft hands to make plays. He’s an excellent passer and possession player. The offensively gifted winger who has no problem generating shots off the rush or on the cycle can also be a physical, net-front presence when asked.
However talented Burakovsky may be, he lacks consistency producing offense at the NHL level. As the Capitals’ forward depth grew stronger, Burakovsky’s role with them shrank. He became a bottom-six winger playing third and fourth line minutes with less talented players, and that’s where his offensive production took a hit. Injuries didn’t help either; Burakovsky suffered two separate hand injuries in back-to-back seasons which took him out of the lineup for extended time. The other issue seems to be strength; for a player Burakovsky’s height, he’s still a shade under 200 pounds, which makes battling for position in front of the net a challenge. He doesn’t always use his size to his advantage, and he could stand to be more engaged in puck battles.
Tom did an amazing write-up on Burakovsky and where his values lies within the data. It’s a very good read and lays out the “pro” argument for Burakovsky that might be a little harder to see past a first glance at him.
Why he got traded
On June 28th, the Colorado Avalanche acquired Burakovsky in exchange for a 2020 second round pick, Arizona’s 2020 third round pick, and unsigned AHLer Scott Kosmachuk. If you take in the Carl Soderberg trade from a few days prior, the Avalanche had essentially given up Soderberg and a second for Burakovsky and depth defenseman Kevin Connauton. Later in the summer, Burakovsky got the aforementioned one-year deal worth $3.25 million.
Our friends over at Japer’s Rink wrote a very good piece on Burakovsky and why it was time for him to move on. They all agreed that he’s a valuable player worth having and trading him would come at a loss for a team in need of good NHL players who can help them up and down the lineup, but the problem here was his role.
The Avalanche have somewhat been the bearers of fruit this summer, taking on a couple of players who had been struggling in a role lesser to their abilities. Those players, Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri, will likely now make a duo on the team’s re-vamped second line.
Kadri had a great first three seasons under Mike Babcock that saved his career. First as a 1C on the tanking Leafs in 2015-16, followed by being the dependable and fiesty 2C behind an elite scorer in Auston Matthews. The role was perfect for him. The perfect amount of ice time, great linemates, and a role that he understood and that motivated him.
Former Arsenal FC manager Arsene Wenger once said “If a player needs motivation, they are in the wrong place.” Now that quote can mean a couple different things; they could be in the wrong position on the field, or on the wrong team under the wrong system, or in the wrong business entirely. I think for Burakovsky and Kadri, they were in the wrong positions within a lineup and a new team with new opportunity was necessary for them to succeed.
Understanding the Ranking
Burakovsky has his believers and he has his detractors. Some way more than others. The Top 25 under 25 is an interesting series in that it doesn’t specify what qualifies as value to an NHL roster? Does the 18-year-old first-round pick pick who may be a top-line player or a complete bust matter more than the second liner who’s going to give you 25 goals next season no problem? That is one of the many questions we hope average themselves out in a large voting ballot so we can come to a number that makes sense for everyone.
I think #13 is a solid spot for Burakovsky. He’s outside the top tier of prospects (who are all younger than him) but above anyone who is still a maybe in the organization. Some people had him really high up, betting on NHL success now, while others are firm in knowing that he is who he is. And that’s okay, because we’re probably all wrong.