- CSNwashington.com - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Weeks after being taken 23rd overall by the Capitals in last year’s NHL draft, Andre Burakovsky was faced with a difficult decision.

Should he follow the advice of the Capitals and report to the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League?

Or should he follow the advice of just about everyone close to him in Sweden and play another year or two in Malmo?

He chose Erie, and despite a rough start under Otters coach Kris Knoblauch, he says it was the best hockey decision he’s ever made.

“The first four games I was really, really bad and the coach put me on the bench and stuff,” Burakovsky recalled Monday after the start of his second development camp with the Caps. “I didn’t understand how I could play so well the year before and then I come over here and nothing really worked for me.”

Burakovsky admitted he had trouble adapting to the smaller ice surface of the OHL, but it didn’t take long for him to show what made him the Caps’ top pick, recording 41 goals and 46 assists with a plus-46 in 57 games.  

“That’s the thing with the small ice,” Burakovsky said. “You don’t just learn in a day; it takes weeks.”

The biggest difference, Burakovsky said, was dealing with the physicality of the North American game. At 6-foot-1, 178 pounds, Burakovsky had to learn what it meant to take a hit to make a play.  

“The smaller rink, it’s so much faster,” he said. “You have to go harder to the net and it’s a more physical game, too. You need your head up all the time. In my opinion, it’s more fun because I like to dangle a lot. I like to move and the small rink is perfect for that.”

The question facing Burakovsky now is whether he will return to Erie for a second season or make the Caps’ roster as the high-scoring left wing they have been lacking since Alex Ovechkin moved from the left side to the right.

If Burakovsky returns to Erie, he’ll be reunited with an offensive juggernaut that includes center Connor McDavid, whom Burakovsky described as the next Sidney Crosby.

Despite all of his offensive exploits last season, Burakovsky was third on the Otters in goals and fourth in points.

“I don’t know,” Burakovsky said when asked if he’s ready for the NHL. “I played some games last year in the preseason and I feel I did really good there. The OHL was really good for me, too, and I might be ready to at least try to play in the NHL.”

At 19, Burakovsky is in a similar situation to Tom Wilson last year, when he could play in either the NHL or the OHL but nowhere else. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said he would have liked to have seen Wilson develop more by playing one more season in the OHL.

Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said he was impressed by Burakovsky’s first season in the OHL, but thinks he needs to get a little stronger to play in the NHL.

“I’m working on that every day with my personal trainer back home [in Malmo],” Burakovsky said. “I’m trying to get bigger and stronger every day and really focus on that. It’s no rush, it’s coming by itself. I just have to take one step at a time. It’s not just training all the time. I have to sleep a lot and eat right.”

Burakovsky says he’ll also need to improve on his defensive game if he hopes to make a lasting impression on Barry Trotz and his coaching staff in September.

“I look forward to the main camp,” Burakovsky said, “and I want to do whatever it takes to play some games in the NHL.”