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The Need For A Shooting Swede

On a line with three Swedish forwards, someone’s gotta relinquish the courtesy

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Author’s Note: Between the writing of this article and the publishing of it, Barry Trotz mixed up the Caps’ top-6. It’s likely Andre Burakovsky won’t start tomorrow’ game on a line with Nicklas Backstrom or Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals’ 2013 first round draft pick, Andre Burakovsky, has kicked off his third season in the NHL, and has earned himself— at least for now— a spot in the top-six forward corps of what should be one of the League’s more potent offenses.

In his rookie campaign Burakovsky put up 22 points (9g, 13a) in 53 games, and followed that up with 38 points (17g, 21a) in 79 games for his 2015-2016 sophomore output. He spent the better part of that season anchoring the right side of a line pivoted by Evgeny Kuznetsov and with Justin Williams manning the opposite wing.

Despite Burakovsky probably having a better shot than both of those guys, he actually shot the puck at a lower rate than either of his contemporaries.

This year, however, the young Swede finds himself on a line with two of his more pedigreed countrymen, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. That’s a lot of Swedish courtesy on the ice at one time, and it’s likely going to be a principle priority of Burakovsky to ensure that line gets the puck to the net; among Caps’ forwards who skated more than 750 minutes last season (put another way, every-day forwards), Backstrom and Johansson had the team lowest shooting rates.

Even ignoring shot-rates for a moment, if Burakovsky’s team-leading shooting percentage from a year ago is any indication, he’s the guy you want claiming the lion’s share of shots with that trio on the ice.

Granted, Backstrom and Johansson are two of the team’s four most efficient shooting-forwards. Those guys are going to continue to pick their spots, but each has a legacy of pass-first mentality, and that changing is more unlikely than Burakovsky continuing his early career incline of 5v5 shot rates.

Burakovsky shot the puck at a 5.86 shots/60 at 5v5 in 2014-2015 (for reference, at a lower clip than Johansson did last year), then jumped up to 7.21 last season. Through five games in the 2016-2017, Burakovsky’s shooting rate has increased minimally to 7.31, while Backstrom’s and Johansson’s sit at 7.26 and 7.12 respectively.

The sample size from which those numbers are produced is ludicrously small, and so not particularly informative. The early numbers indicate that the second line might be shooting-by-committee. However, that conclusion doesn’t pass the sniff test with what we know about Backstrom and Johansson’s style of play, and so these numbers bear watching as the young season matures.