If you can believe it, a new Kraken season is just about a month away now. So, it’s about time to start limbering up those hockey muscles again. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a close look at some of the new comers (and one recent comer) and how they might project to contribute with Seattle this year. We’ll kick it off with Seattle’s biggest free agent signing of the summer, Andre Burakovksy.
In preparing this piece, I watched a number of Burakovsky’s 2021-22 games and cut up all of his shifts from three of those games into YouTube videos so that you could watch and follow along with my breakdown:
- April 13, 2022, versus the Los Angeles Kings: first period, second period, and third period.
- April 16, 2022, versus the Carolina Hurricanes: first period, second period, and third period.
- April 20, 2022, at the Seattle Kraken: first period, second period, and third period.
I encourage you to dive into the videos yourself and let me know if you disagree. You can find all of these “all shifts” videos on the DeepSeaHockey YouTube channel.
Burakovsky, a 27-year-old, left-shot winger, signed a five-year, $5.5 million AAV contract with the Kraken as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Born in Austria and raised in Sweden, Burakovsky was drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft, 23rd overall, by the Washington Capitals. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward debuted in Washington in the 2014-15 season at 19 years old and stuck with the team for the next five years, ultimately hoisting the Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018. Following the 2018-19 season, the Capitals dealt Burakovsky to the Avalanche, where he played for the last three years and won another Cup this year.
As we will get into, Burakovsky is one of the league’s great shooters and has posted above-average shooting percentages every year of his career. While in Washington, his goal scoring production was relatively consistent at 0.8-1.0 goals per sixty minutes. After he was dealt to Colorado, that production ticked upward into the 1.0-1.4 goal-per-sixty range. On the Kraken, his 1.0 goals per sixty minutes in 2021-22 would have trailed only Jared McCann among forwards with at least 500 minutes of ice time.
But, perhaps even more notably, the big Swede’s play generation for his teammates ramped up in Colorado. Burakovsky posted his three highest assist totals (and assists per sixty minutes totals) in his three years in the Mile High City. His 39 assists in 2021-22 would have easily led last year’s Seattle team. Of course, the quality of Burakovsky’s Avalanche teammates was a big factor there.
In Washington, Burakovsky earned the equivalent of second-line minutes for his first four years with the team, before his ice time was downgraded to a third-line-type role in the 2018-19 season. He was a second-unit power play player, buried behind a talented group in Washington.
In Colorado, Burakovsky played anywhere from the “first” to “third” line, but overall logged second-line minutes. He remained stuck on the second power play unit behind an incredibly talented forward group, but he accrued significantly more man advantage time overall since Colorado’s high-powered offense generated power play opportunities at a prolific clip.
In video I watched from the 2021-22 season, Burakovsky lined up on the left wing at even strength. That said, he is flexible and has logged significant time on the right side (his “off wing”) in the past too. Burakovsky moved all around the formation in Colorado anyway.
When the Avalanche power play was set up in the offensive zone, Burakovsky was often assigned to the right circle (though the unit’s impressive movement and fluidity meant that he often ended up in other positions). When the power play was attempting zone entries, Colorado trusted Burakovsky as the single trailing forward. This role is entrusted to a player the coaching staff views as skilled in transition with space to scan the ice. Burakovsky was charged with skating the puck into the zone or finding a teammate to pass to if pressured at the blue line.
Burakovsky has never played any significant time on the penalty kill.
Except for 2018-19, when Burakovsky slipped to the bottom-six role with Washington, his coaches have consistently placed him in an offense-first role. When sent out onto the ice after a play stoppage, Burakovsky has started in the offensive zone more than 60 percent of the time and in the defensive zone less than 40 percent of the time. This role, combined with his offensive skill, has driven high-quality Corsi (shot attempt differential) and Fenwick (unblocked shot attempt differential) percentages when he is on the ice.
Of course, Burakovsky has played on talented teams, but looking a little closer, it is difficult to dismiss him as a “product of the system.” He has produced a positive Corsi relative to his teammates in every year he has been in the league (see “Corsi For % rel”) in the chart below. This means his team’s shot attempt differential is better when he is on the ice than when he is not. The same is true for his relative Fenwick rates, except for the 2018-19 season.
Likewise, looking at shot quality, his on-ice expected goals +/- has been positive in six of eight NHL seasons, including each of his three seasons in Colorado. And this metric does not give Burakovsky any credit for his single best skill, his ability to finish scoring opportunities at an elite rate. Let’s get into that now.
Using video and a few statistics, here are some initial thoughts on attributes of Burakovsky’s play, starting with his strongest qualities.
An elite wrist shot
Andre Burakovsky’s defining trait is his shot. Put simply, he has one of the best in the league. This skill is shrouded somewhat by his limited shot volume and opportunities. He has never had a season with consistent top line or top unit power play minutes. Furthermore, he doesn’t have elite complimentary skills to create space for himself to get a shot away. All of this means that he isn’t involved in a tremendous total number of scoring chances; but when he does get one, he is among the very best in the league at beating the goaltender.
We can get a sense of this, first, by looking at Burakovsky’s shooting data. Per statistics compiled at EvolvingHockey, over the last three years, Burakovsky is 17th in the NHL in shooting percentage on shots on goal among those with at least 1,000 minutes of ice time in that span, at 17.23 percent. Among all unblocked shots attempts, Burakovsky is 16th overall, at 12.63 percent. And the data shows these elite numbers are largely shot-skill related, rather than driven by the inherent danger of the shots he takes. Crunching the numbers, over the last three seasons, he ranks 24th in the league in difference between his actual shooting percentage and expected shooting percentage based on shot type and location on the ice.
Andre Burakovksy’s HockeyViz player card does a good job of representing this skill graphically; his “finishing impact” is at the far right tail of the curve.
Digging a little deeper with shot-by-shot tracking data over the last three seasons compiled by the tremendous site IcyData, we see that, relative to the league, Burakovsky generates an inordinant number of his shots and goals on wrist shots. While wrist shots are, unsurprisingly, the most common shot type in the league (56.69 percent of total shots in that span), Burakovsky uses wrist shots far more frequently (75.45 percent of his shots). By contrast he is far less reliant on backhand shots, slap shots, snap shots, or tip-in shots. And IcyData did not credit him with even a single deflection or wrap-around shot on goal in the last three years.
The wrist shots he generated came on average from 32.42 feet from the goal, which was 5.45 percent closer to the goal than league average; so, he is generating relatively good wrist shots. But, remarkably, the wrist shots that actually scored came at an average of 28.07 feet from the goal, which is 22.26 percent farther away from the goal than league average.
In other words, while the league takes a lot of long-distance wrist shots, those shots rarely go in. Only closer-distance wrist shots score. Burakovsky, by contrast, can finish those longer-distance opportunities. In fact, despite his scores coming from significantly farther away, Burakovsky’s shooting percentage is 51.58 percent higher than league average; Burakovsky’s wrist shots go in approximately 16 percent of the time versus approximately 10.5 percent of the time for the league. This is a big differential.
Visually, we can see that Burakovsky (on the left) generates more of his scoring from the high slot (19 percent) than league average (just 11 percent) in 2021-22. This seems to be where Burakovsky’s finishing skill most frequently manifests. If he can get free between the tops of the circles, he is a threat to score from distance in a way that very few in the league can.
Not only can Burakovsky pick a corner with velocity, he can also create a scoring opportunity more subtly, by dragging the puck ever so slightly before release, and changing the shot angle on the goalie. He doesn’t score on this shot (in fact, the shot is blocked), but the clip below is an example of this subtle and important shooting skill.
Very strong off-the-puck play in the offensive zone
The second thing that stood out to me in watching Andre Burakovsky was his skill in finding space for himself in the offensive zone without the puck. In this clip, off an offensive zone faceoff, he immediately flows to the slot in an area where his teammate has a passing lane to him for a one-timer.
In this video, Burakovsky moves right to the net front as he sees his teammate surprising the opponent with a corner board battle. His instincts almost generated a prime scoring chance out of a “nothing” play.
Here, he spaces to the low circle on the weak side off the rush, ready for a one-timer. He barely misses connecting on the shot, sending it wide.
In this video, after taking a giveaway, he hands off to a teammate and immediately moves to the slot for a one-timer.
While his puck handling skills are adequate, they are not high end. So, Burakovsky’s off-puck work is critical to how he generates the majority of his chances. It is a strong complimentary skill to his elite shot.
But his off-the-puck work is not limited to just shot generation for himself. Here, he skates off a defender in man coverage and creates a void in the slot for his teammate to skate into. While the scoring chance never materializes, this shows how Burakovsky can drive offensive production even without the puck on his stick.
Strong play speed and pace in transition
Burakovsky plays with very good straight-line speed, particularly for a player of his size, and he deploys that skating ability with above-average play pace in transition. This can stress a defense, putting opposing blue liners on their heels and winning space for himself and his teammates.
When pressured at the opponent blue line, he is only an average puck handler and will, at times, fail to control possession, as shown in the clip above. Other times he will bail out for the conservative play or lose possession entirely. Here is an example of the latter: Burakovsky takes the conservative play to maintain possession but gives up on what initially looked like a threatening rush.
But, more often than not, his pace gives him a strong chance in transition. And, when he is engaged, his straight-line speed also plays well on the back check. Here he is able to negate a Los Angeles forward from a rush with stride-for-stride close coverage.
Above average playmaking in space, including on the power play
When afforded an extra beat of time to scan the ice, he can make efficient, high end plays for his teammates. In this clip, Burakovsky connects on a long pass from the defensive zone, leading to a controlled transition and scoring chance back on his own stick.
But Burakovsky’s playmaking is perhaps best exemplified with two power play assists in Colorado’s April 16, 2022, game against Carolina. In this first video, he gets the puck in space off a board battle won by a teammate. He takes a moment to survey and draw the defender in before slipping a pass past to his teammate crashing the right circle. That teammate is then easily able to find another on the backdoor for backdoor one-timer. It all started with Burakovsky’s vision.
In this second video, Burakovsky gets the puck in space in the right circle. He shifts to a create a better angle and puts a pass right on the tape for his teammate on a backdoor tip in.
Burakovsky’s shot generation statistics on the power play are good. He produced average or better relative Corsi and Fenewick rates on the man advantage over the last three years. In other words, his team generated relatively more shots with him on the ice on the powerplay than when he was not on the ice.
However, the advanced analytics on his power play production are not good. JFresh Hockey puts Burakovsky’s power play value in the 14th percentile. This does not match the skill set I see, though. If the Kraken are prepared to build a first unit power play around Burakovsky on the right circle, and accentuate his strengths as a backside shooter and playmaker with space to operate, I think it would be a productive unit.
Average puck handling skills
Burakovsky’s puck handling skills are a bit of mixed bag of above-average and below-average traits. He is not particularly strong on the puck, and when combined with his height, his stick is vulnerable to back check pressure and takeaways.
He is average on his edges, but he doesn’t have great short-area quickness to consistently lose defenders on the cycle in the offensive zone. Instead, he is best when using his size on the puck to shield it and block off defenders.
Similarly, here is another example where his size on the puck allows him to shield off a stick check and get a shot off:
Average to below-average playmaking under pressure
While I saw Burakovsky operating as a strong playmaker in space, when he is under pressure – as will often be the case at even strength – that playmaking and passing ability slips considerably. For example, following an impressive cycle highlighted above, he is pressured and sends a short pass to a teammate that needs to connect on the tape to allow continued offensive zone movement. Instead Burakovsky misfires, causing his teammate to reach and throwing off the timing.
At times it looks like his mind is racing, and he takes the first opportunity to fire a puck away rather than waiting a split second longer for the best opportunity. In this clip, a pressured and failed clearing chance leads to a prime scoring opportunity against. The time and opportunity was there to make a better play.
That said, his playmaking under pressure is not “all bad” by any stretch. To the contrary, there are times where his skill shows up despite immense pressure. Here, he is able to find a teammate in the slot from below the goal line despite close checking from an opponent. The play results in a goal. As Burakovksy moves out of his prime physical years, this is an area where he could still improve and better his game. The passing skill is certainly there, in flashes.
Below-average defensive zone involvement
Throughout these videos, you will see Burakovsky floating at the top of the defensive zone, most often getting engaged only to put puck pressure on an opposing blueliner or in support on high wall plays. To be certain, this is his role in the team defense as a winger, but the engagement and activity level is often substandard. His closeouts and physical engagement could be better.
In this clip, he loses a puck battle to Kole Lind leading to possession and transition for the Kraken, and then he never fully engages in the defensive end to clear the puck with urgency.
His transition defense also wanes at times, particularly when his feet are not engaged.
Below-average compete on the forecheck
Perhaps more troublingly, Burakovsky does not often bring a physical edge or tenacity that you would like to see on the forecheck. Instead, he often prefers to be the second player into the corner rather than the first. In this video he coasts into a potential puck battle, losing before it began. He certainly had the opportunity to at least stalemate this play in the corner.
Likewise, he defaults to playing with his stick rather than his body along the boards. In this clip he goes for the puck rather than cancelling the opposing player and easily concedes possession.
Generally speaking, Burakovsky is not very physical off the puck. He doesn’t use his size to separate players from the puck or win board battles. The “hits” statistic is fairly overrated, but he is not going to win any plaudits for physical play despite a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame that many other more physically engaged players would envy.
Projecting a role with the Kraken
Burakovsky, 27, was one of the youngest true unrestricted free agents available. Thus, he is still close enough to his prime years that we should not necessarily expect significant age-related regression until the latter years of his deal.
To leverage Andre Burakovsky’s elite traits, the Kraken will likely put him in an offense-forward role, paired with at least one other forward who can drive possession and create space in the offensive zone while Burakovsky looks for openings to receive a puck and fire it on the net. There are numerous Kraken players who could fill that role, including Matty Beniers, Alex Wennberg, and Yanni Gourde, so the team will probably search for chemistry in camp and early in the year.
The Kraken will also likely look to feature Burakovsky on the power play, probably in the right circle in the team’s 1-3-1 scheme, where he would be able to rip quick shots on goal from his forehand or survey the ice and make passes to his teammates. I do think the power play skill is there, even if it has not shown up in the advanced statistics yet.
To minimize Burakovksy’s weaker attributes, he is best paired with at least one strong puck retrieval forward, capable of winning puck battles behind the net and in the corners off uncontrolled zone entries, with only second-man-in support from Burakovsky. Brandon Tanev, Yanni Gourde, or Karson Kuhlman could fill this type of role, as could others. He is also ideally paired with a strong defensive center that allows him to be less active and float high in the defensive zone, ready to initiate transition going the other way. Gourde, and maybe Beniers and Wennberg, come to mind. He is not going to be a strong defensive forward in isolation, but there is no reason his line cannot succeed defensively if properly constructed.
While the overall talent of the Kraken roster does not compare with Colorado’s squad, it is possible that Burakovsky’s on-ice context does not change much from last year if he plays with Seattle’s other high-end players, rather than Colorado’s middle six. If so, and he is deployed (a) on the first unit power play, and (b) with an emphasis on offensive zone draws at even strength, I do not think it out of the question that Burakovsky maintains his even-strength goal scoring and improves his power play production, putting him in the 25-to-30-goal range this season.
What do you think of the Andre Burakovsky addition? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.