When fantasy owners are asked to think of young, up-and-coming stars for the Washington Capitals, center Evgeny Kuznetsov is probably the first player that comes to mind.
The 23-year-old Russian is in the midst of a breakout season. He has 15 goals, 51 points and leads the league with a plus-25 rating. Kuznetsov also made his first All-Star appearance, replacing teammate Alex Ovechkin in Nashville last weekend.
Owners have clearly taken notice of Kuznetsov. He is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues.
It is now time to take notice of another young, up-and-coming star for the Capitals, left winger Andre Burakovsky.
Even with his latest uptick in ownership rate, as of February 5, the 20-year-old Austrian-born forward was only owned in 5.6 percent of ESPN leagues. That should only rise over the next two months.
Burakovsky was hot heading into the All-Star break, and he has continued that momentum through early February. In his five games before Sunday’s tilt against the Flyers, Burakovsky’s netted a goal per game, including two in the OT loss to Philadelphia on January 27.
The Capitals left winger was absolutely all over the ice in the first game back from the break. On Tuesday versus the Florida Panthers, Burakovsky registered a goal and a career-high 10 shots on net. In the prior 108 games of his career, he had never had more than five shots on goal in a single game.
Of course, it helped Burakovsky that Ovechkin didn’t play in the game. As a result, the 20-year-old received 18:20 minutes of ice time, which was a career-high for a regular season game.
To put those numbers further into perspective, Burakovsky is averaging 1.40 shots per game and 12:25 minutes of ice time this season.
Ovechkin returned on Thursday against the New York Islanders and actually scored the game-winning goal, but that didn’t hurt Burakovsky’s value. He still played 16:19 minutes and despite only one shot on net, he scored.
Burakovsky’s playing time has steadily increased over the last eight games. He is averaging 13:21 minutes of ice time over that time. It is probably no coincidence that it is also the best scoring stretch of his young career.
In the last eight games, the 20-year-old has six goals and 10 points with a plus-six rating. All five of those goals have come in the last four games. Burakovsky actually has more goals and points since Jan. 10 than he did in the 38 games prior to that this season.
The recent surge gives the young forward 10 goals and 22 points in 47 games. He also has 66 shots on net and a 15.2 shooting percentage.
Last season, he had nine goals, 22 points, 65 shots on goal and a 13.8 shooting percentage in 53 games. His average of shots on goal has risen from 1.22 in 2014-15 to 1.40 this season.
Behind the 10 shots on net against Florida, that average is even higher lately. In the last eight games, during which Burakovsky has 10 points, he is averaging 2.38 shots on goal per game. Granted, 10 of his 19 shots came in one game, so the performance against Florida greatly effects the average. Take out that game, and he is averaging 1.29 shots on goal since Jan. 10.
Still, the game against the Panthers shows that Burakovsky is on the verge of a breakthrough rarely seen from players only owned in five percent of their fantasy leagues.
And even if the goals dry up a bit for him – they will because Burakovsky can’t continue scoring at a 26.3 percent clip – he has shown he can produce in other ways. He has six assists and a plus-six rating in the last eight games too.
If Burakovsky has truly turned the corner, based on his season totals and current four-game pace, owners can expect him to finish with about 15 goals and 37 points. That would mean roughly six goals and 16 points in the last 33 games.
That kind of production will definitely get the attention of fantasy owners looking for help on the waiver wire.