Burmistrov gets chance to prove his worth

By: Adam Wazny | Wednesday, February 6

Winnipeg Jets' Alexander Burmistrov tries to play the puck after being tripped up behind the Florida Panthers net during overtime in Tuesday's game. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

On occasion, Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel has been known to grab his deck of cards and given them a good shuffle.

It worked when he cut Blake Wheeler into the pair of Olli Jokinen and Evander Kane earlier this season. Just like that, the Jets turned over a No. 1 line worthy of an NHL team.

Noel's quick fingers were at it again prior to the 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers at MTS Centre Tuesday night when centre Alexander Burmistrov moved from his third line spot to the middle of the Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little duo. The reason for the shift: look to generate more offence from the forward group.

If you managed to stay awake Tuesday, Burmistrov and Co. was the Jets best line against the Panthers. They were on the ice for Winnipeg's second goal (it even looked like Burmistrov got a stick on the Mark Stuart shot; ultimately the defenceman was credited with the score) and for the most part they carried the play in the Florida zone when they jumped over the boards.

The line had six of Winnipeg's 21 shots, with Little burying the winner with 15.2 seconds to play in overtime, snapping the Jets (4-4-1) losing streak at three games.

Coming into the contest, Burmistrov had just one point (a goal) despite seeing a regular shift and averaging over 14 minutes a game. Tuesday, he played over 18 minutes and chipped in an assist. The young pivot hasn't exactly shown the offensive dynamic many believe he carries in his bag (13 goals, 28 points in 76 games in 2011-12), so maybe the move can kick-start this part of his game.

That's the short-term thinking with this latest line shuffle. The long view figures to impact Burmistrov and his future with the Jets.

This could be a big moment in Burmistrov's NHL career. The 21-year-old is in the final year of his entry-level contract and is slated to be a restricted free agent at season's end. Like Little, Wheeler and defencemen Paul Postma and Zach Redmond, the Jets will have a RFA decision to make on Burmistrov: Is he part of the big picture, a core member of the group, or is he a piece that can be moved?

This second-line 'audition' (for lack of a better term) is a chance for Burmistrov to prove he's an asset worth retaining. He's been given a glorious chance here, a break many feel youngster Mark Scheifele should be given: an opportunity to play with top-end forwards on the roster to help draw out his offensive potential.

Why Burmistrov and not Scheifele? Well, Noel trusts the former to take care of his defensive responsibilities far more than the Jets top prospect at this current stage of development, and with the Jets aiming to be a little more mindful in their own end this time around, the third-year pro gets the look.

How long Burmistrov gets the opportunity as a Top 6 forward depends on how he handles the assignment, both on the ice and between the ears. If all goes well and he produces offensively within the Jets system -- if he keeps his game controlled and doesn't try to do too much -- it stands to reason his 'tryout' (again, for lack of better word) will be a long and prosperous one for both the player and team.

But if he starts to freelance too much, if he looks for a run of green lights instead of playing under the team-preferred cautious yellow, then Noel will be forced to shuffle the deck and dial the forward's ice-time back once again.

And if that happens, then maybe the Jets will have their answer on Burmistrov.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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