It cost Andre Burakovsky some high anxiety at the ticket counter and the Erie Otters a hefty airfare, but the Capitals’ 18-year-old prospect is happy with his decision to continue his career in North America.
Last week, Burakovsky left his home in Sweden to attend the Otters’ training camp, but complications with his paperwork prevented him from boarding his connecting flight from Paris.
“They wouldn’t let me on the plane,” Burakovsky said after participating in his first rookie camp scrimmage with the Capitals. “I was running around the airport asking what I should do and they said we can’t help you so much.”
Burakovsky doesn’t speak French, so he called his parents, who helped him pay the additional $400 Euro [$524 American] to get him to Erie following a six-hour holdover in Paris.
It was a stressful start to Burakovsky’s North American career, but the Capitals are pleased with his decision.
“We’re really delighted he’ll be playing in Erie,” Caps general manager George McPhee said, using Marty Erat and Tomas Fleischmann as examples of European players who benefited from playing in North America.
“That’s going to be really good for his development. Learning the language better, learning the North American game, learning more about the Canadian-American culture. You just get a much more well-rounded player a year down the road having played in North America.”
On Wednesday, Burakovsky signed a three-year entry level contract that would pay him $832,500 if he plays in the NHL and $70,000 if he plays in the AHL. And although Burakovsky could play in the AHL because he is European, McPhee said the plan is for him to play the entire season in Erie.
“I wouldn’t do that,” McPhee said of starting Burakovsky with the Hershey Bears. “He’s not ready for that, he’s too young.”
Instead, Burakovsy will begin the season alongside center Connor McDavid, who is already being projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL draft. Burakovsy said the two already have become good friends off the ice and are looking forward to playing together in Erie, where Burakovsky will earn more playing time than in Sweden, where he played on the fourth line last season.
“I make the decision because I want to play much,” Burakovsky said. “In Sweden I play 12 minutes every game and in Erie I maybe play 20-25 minutes every game. That’s what I need. I need to play much. When you play much you get better every day.”
Caps coach Adam Oates said he’ll keep an eye on Burakovsky for the next few days but is not counting on seeing the young Swede until next summer’s development camp.
“I think George is right on,” Oates said. “I think he’ll do nothing but grow playing a year [in Erie]. I think he’ll grow leaps and bounds and we’ll revisit him next year.”