When you’re selected 8th overall, you enter the picture with rather large expectations. In a vacuum, 48 points in 150 career games is not an acceptable scoring rate for an offensively gifted forward. But the problem with that is that you can’t necessarily evaluate what Alex Burmistrov has done thus far in a vacuum, just by looking at his point totals.
From his 2010 draft class, 20 fellow first rounders have yet to lace up the skates in an NHL game. Of the ten that have, only Tyler Seguin and Cam Fowler have played in more games than Burmistrov. But for me, the most important fact to take into account is that he has yet to turn 21 years old.
While there are many casualties of the lockout – fans, employees, older players with only so much playing time left in their legs – the young Russian center may very well be one of its biggest beneficiaries. What can we expect from Burmistrov for not only this year, but the future as well?
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On September 19th, the Winnipeg Jets assigned 13 players to their AHL affiliate, the St.John’s IceCaps, with the most notable of the bunch being Burmistrov. It raised some eyebrows, given the fact that a trip back to the KHL seemed inevitable. The team he had played for prior to coming to North America, Ak Bars, seemed ready to accept him with open arms – their coach even told a reporter that Burmistrov would indeed be joining the roster.
Causing an uproar, and being a malcontent would have been the easy play. No one would have blamed him – it’s a step-down both in attention, and salary. But by all accounts, Burmistrov has embraced the challenge, taking it all in stride. He’s a very smart young man, because he clearly sees the opportunity ahead of him.
He will be asked to shoulder a large load for the IceCaps, while logging all the ice time he could have ever dreamed of. He will be given every chance possible to not only succeed, but thrive. As is the case with many other youngsters who have sniffed the NHL life, he still has plenty to prove. A jumpstart such as this one, with the added confidence that he’ll hopefully accrue, could be exactly what he needs for the big breakout that everyone has been waiting for.
As is the case with most young players, consistency – or more appropriately, a lackthereof – has haunted Burmistrov early in his career. After registering 9 points in the first 9 games last year, he followed that up with only 3 in the next 14 games. And unfortunately, that was hardly the only scoring drought that jumps out of the page when scanning through his game log.
I spoke with Corey Pronman about Burmistrov, and what he sees when he watches him play:
DF: What are Burmistrov’s strongest traits?
CP: His puck skills and hockey sense stand out. He’s the kind of player who always makes plays with the puck, and his skills shine through consistently. There’s also the fact that he’s a very quality skater, too.
DF: Conversely, what do you see as his biggest weakness – i.e. what he needs to shore up, before he breaks out?
CP: With kids who have all the tools and it just doesn’t click, it’s usually a combination of handling the NHL’s physicality and pace. Both require experience, but the former requires continuous effort to get stronger. Burmistrov was a little bit of a ‘string bean’ during his first North American years.
DF: If it could be done all over again, would you have liked to see his progress up the ranks staggered a bit more? Was he rushed to the NHL?
CP: Being drafted out of the OHL, it was either NHL or OHL for his first season. I wasn’t all that crazy about him being kept up in 2010-11, although this past year, I think he did fine in the NHL.
Alex Burmistrov registered 13 goals, and 28 points, while logging slightly under 17 minutes a night last season. But what do his underlying numbers – or ‘fancy stats’ if you will – tell us about his performance?
There’s no doubt that Claude Noel sheltered Burmistrov last season. What do I mean by that? Amongst Jets forwards last season, only Kyle Wellwood started a larger percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone (58.7%). Meanwhile, the Corsi Rel QoC (Relative Corsi for the Quality of Competition) was the second poorest on the team, just ahead of Tim Stapleton. He played against weak competition, in a more sheltered, offensive role. Still, he registered a positive corsi of his one, meaning that while he was on the ice, the Jets had a positive shot differential.
A fascinating stat that I always look at, is the rate of penalties drawn/60 minutes. The more skilled players are usually amongst the leaders, given their propensity in forcing the opposition to commit an infraction to prevent them from doing something with the puck. That’s why it should come as no surprise that the leaders for the Jets were Evander Kane (1.5/60) and Burmistrov (1.3/60).
Frankly, Burmistrov would score more goals if he could simply elevate his shooting percentage. It’s reasonable to assume that as he continues to put more pucks on net (and the sample size grows), the percentage of pucks that beat the goaltender will be greater than the 10.6% he totalled last season. Amongst forwards, there was no one on the Jets who’s average shot distance was further from the net than this. It’s difficult to score consistently as a forward when you’re launching from that far out. Goaltenders are simply too good at what they do these days. [As always, all of the information above was acquired from Behind the Net].
Recently, Robert Vollman did his projections for the Jets on Artctic Ice Hockey, which is a must-read for Jets fans. In it, he compares Burmistrov to Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche, who broke out for 55 points this past season. While I’m intrigued by the optimistic comparison, it should be noted that Burmistrov likely won’t be playing with Gabriel Landeskog – unless the resolution to the lockout entails something that I’m currently unaware of. Let’s temper our expectations, at least for the time being.
The magic remedy for most of what has ailed Burmistrov will hopefully be the added confidence, and strength, that he will boast as he continues to develop. It’s as simple as that. All he needs is time, opportunity, and patience. And that’s exactly what this ongoing lockout has afforded him.