There is a decent chance you may be thinking "What!?!" After all, Alexander Burmistrov is a polarizing "enigmatic" Russian who signed a two-year contract in the KHL when failing to agree on terms with the Winnipeg Jets. He later admitted to having issues with coach Claude Noel giving the juicy minutes to Olli Jokinen who was being out played and produced by the younger centre.
In the end though, Burmistrov is still a young, promising player who at 20 and 21 already proved he is at least a NHL calibre centre. He remains an asset for the Winnipeg Jets as they control his rights until he is 27. While he was not an unanimous choice like Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian were at places one and two, he ends up at position three in this years session. (By the way, Bryan Little, who was last year's 3rd rank, graduates with turning 25)
Previous Rank: #4
The Little Russian that Could
Alexander Burmistrov started getting noticed during his rookie season in the Russian junior league, with finishing 3rd in points and 1st in assists for the entire league for all 16 year olds (out of a hundred players). He also played for the Russian U17 team that year. The next season his 1.41 points per a game played was 4th in the league for players with 30+ games played. He was awarded with a selection for the Russia's U18 team for the World Hockey Championships. At the tournament Burmistrov was over a point per game player, placed 8th in total points and won a silver medal. He also got the experience of playing a game in the KHL.
The next year Alexander flew over the Atlantic to play for the Barrie Colts, hoping to prove to scouts he wanted to play in the NHL, even though he spoke no english at the time. He hired an english instructor then to assist him with the transfer. While getting accustomed to the North American style of play, Burmistrov posted a 65 points in 62 games. His 1.05 points per a game played in his draft year is only surpassed by Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele and Eric O`Dell out of all the players on Top 25 Under 25 list. He also played at the World Junior Hockey Championships, producing 4 points in six games.
Ironically, the coach and GM of Barrie Colts spoke high praise towards Burmistrov attitude and his coachability:
"Burmistrov maintained the positive attitude despite the frustrations that came with the language barrier."
"I thought my life was going to be extremely difficult coaching him and he’s made my life so easy," Williamson says. "He’s coachable and his hockey IQ is through the roof."
I found an odd quote that was translated into english during his rookie season in the OHL; I'm not sure what to really make of it, but thought it should go here:
If it's not a secret, under which conditions Ak Bars let you go? Kirill Kabanov found some troubles in a similar situation...
"I should play here one season, improve...and then I should get back and play for Ak Bars."
If I was to hazard a guess, he was planning on developing in the KHL prior to coming over to the NHL full time as he wasn't allowed in Barrie for a second season... if this quote is true.
Anyways, the Atlanta Thrashers kept him up, rushing him to the NHL. Possibly to sell tickets. Possibly because of KHL factor. Possibly to save money on an ELC player. They placed the high skilled undersized centre --then at 5'11" and 165 pounds-- in a place to succeed where all prospects should develop: playing 11 minutes a game with Ben Eager, Chris Thorburn and Eric Boulton (sarcasm). As would be expected, Alexander did not have a strong year, posting poor offensive production and Corsi numbers, although doing better than linemates Thorburn and Boulton. The one positive thing that arose from that season was the start of a trend, Evander Kane doing his best when with Burmistrov and vice-versa. Evander Kane was a 52.0% CF% when with Burmistrov but a 45.5% CF% without. This means the Jets were directing more pucks towards the oppositions net than allowing against when the two were together, but failed to do so when Kane was alone. A team's CF% is also a great predictor of future success as it correlates stronger to future goal differentials than even a team's current goal differential.
Then the franchise moved to Winnipeg where Burmistrov played for the Jets, working his way up to the second line. With Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood, the three formed the most effective second line the Jets have yet to see when it came to both goal and shot attempts differentials (and possibly the Thrashers as well). While some complain that the Jets have only been a one line team, the truth is they did have two top lines that worked at one point.
The next year Burmistrov was asked to play in the AHL during the lockout, where he had difficulty pulling up a depressingly struggling IceCaps (predominately due to shooting percentages). He was called out for his lack of production, even though he was one point from lead for the teams' forwards at the time. The NHL season then started up as a shortened season, which still remains fresh in our minds on how Burmistrov severely outplayed Jokinen and had every player on the team do better when with Alex than away from him.
Since then, he has signed a contract for two years to the KHL, although Kevin Chevaldayoff has hinted this may not be the last of Burmistrov in the NHL.
Burmistrov and Kane
Mark Messier spoke once on Evander Kane, on how he plays a great game but he needs to find that player he clicks with to take him to the next level. While many Jet fans are praying for it to be Mark Scheifele and management looks to almost be relying on that, the numbers indicate that they already had the guy.
This is Kane's goal production, point production, Jets' out-shooting (all attempts) the opposition and Jets' out-scoring the opposition with and without Burmistrov
As you can see, Evander Kane has always improved significantly when with Burmistrov, every year, in every measure. Scoring goals. Racking up points. Directing more pucks to the opponents net than their own. Out-scoring the other team. Everything.
The likely reason why the last year was not as dramatic was likely that a lot of the time Kane was away from Burmistrov, he was with one of Blake Wheeler or Kyle Wellwood.
#Fancystats fans often talk about puck possession. Mike Babcock even once said "puck possession is everything". He was right with this. We stats nerds track shot attempts, not because shot attempts win you games, but because it has a HUGE correlation to puck possession, scoring chances, and --most importantly-- winning. Truth is shot differentials are currently the strongest predictive model out there for future success, even stronger than goal differential or the current standings. Again, it's not that shot attempt volume is what wins games, but it is a bi-product of what causes teams to win.
From Daniel Wagner (who sometimes says some silly things but this is still gold):
A forward might take a low-percentage shot from the outside, hoping for a rebound that will create a better scoring chance. A defenceman will sometimes throw the puck at the net while under pressure simply to keep the play alive. A fourth liner will shoot the puck as soon as he crosses the opponent’s blue line in order to create an offensive zone faceoff for his team’s top line. A top-six forward will optimistically shoot from a bad angle at the end of his shift after not being able to create a better scoring chance. The pursuit of shot quality will inevitably lead to shot quantity.
And Burmistrov is one of the Jets' best when it comes to these metrics. He placed second in 5v5 for the Jets 2.0 over the last two seasons. He is 9th in the league for reducing attempts against in 4v5 over the last two seasons. As noted earlier, he makes those he's with better than they are without him. To top it all off, of the 50 most common players he lines up against, all but 18 of them do worse against him than when away from him, with three of those 18 still being out-chanced. These players being beaten include players like Evgeni Malkin, Daniel Alfredsson, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, David Clarkson, Mikhail Grabovski, David Krejci and Steven Stamkos.
Alexander's "Lack" of Offensive Production
Most of the anti-Burmistrov crowd point out to Alexander Burmistrov's point production as a failure on his part, with a total disregard to how there are multiple factors involved into scoring... like role, teammates, luck, etc. The question is, how did Burmistrov fair when he was used like a top 6 player?
Well let's take a look at how Burmistrov did when he played with the Jets' better offensive players this last season:
Note: this is Burmistrov's production when with these players. The sample size is too small for definitive determiners of chemistry as sh% would not have gone close to normal regression. The key here is the total here is essentially the approximate production pace Burmistrov was in when used offensively instead of defensively.
I really think the common fan struggle in grasping how much usage, time-on-ice and shooting percentages play a role in a players point production.
To place this all into context, the best 5v5 P/60 Jets over the last two seasons have been Kane (2.12), Ladd (2.03) and Wheeler (2.03). While Burmistrov isn't quite as good offensively as those players, it shows that he does indeed score at top 6 rates when given the minutes, usage, and opportunity... maybe even more so than Bryan Little. The real problem was that he only had two points when away from these players. This makes perfect sense though, that a playmaking centre's point production is strongly affected by the quality of his linemates.
Burmistrov seems to have an innate ability to improve those around him but needs offensive players to create offense.
The negative rumours could very well be true. They could also be false. They could also be somewhere in the middle.
The only things that have come from the horses mouths though are:
1) Alexander Burmistrov said he felt he earned offensive minutes over Jokinen, and was unsure of why he had to play in the AHL over the KHL
2) Claude Noel said if Burmistrov had any issues with him, he did not approach him about it, and also that while Burmistrov plays a more East-West game than what Noel would prefer but he understands Burmistrov is an East-West type player
3) Kevin Chevaldayoff said they will be watching Burmistrov's progress over at the KHL very closely
Everything else is currently speculation. While it's more likely than not that there was a rift between Claude Noel and Alexander Burmistrov, going beyond these things is nothing more than conjecture.
Future of Little Burmistrov
While most of the players behind Alexander Burmistrov in the Jets Top 25 Under 25 have the risk of not reaching the NHL due to being a bust, Burmistrov has already proven not to be a bust but still has a risk of never returning to North America.
Will he stay in the KHL? Will he come back? If he does, will it be with the Jets or do they trade him? What would the Jets get in return?
Questions remain but after Bogosian and Kane there are lots of questions on a all of these players. He still is a competent NHL hockey player who hasn't fully reached his potential, but makes everyone around him better, and plays a position Jets have a gapping hole in depth and is debatably the most important position in the game. Whether he tops out as a second line player who can take tough minutes like Ryan Kesler or Patrice Bergeron, or a true first line player also remains a very valid question.
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