Prior to the NHL Entry Draft each year, SB Nation's network of hockey blogs stages a mock draft in which each of our team-specific websites selects draft-eligible prospects in the same positions as the teams we cover are slated to. Last year, in a stroke of dumb luck, we picked Tomas Hertl 17th overall a week and a half before the Sharks snagged him as well at the real draft in Pittsburgh. This year, with the 20th overall pick, Fear The Fin selects winger Andre Burakowsky of the Malmö RedHawks of Allsvenskan, Sweden's second-tier professional hockey league.
Burakowsky was ranked 26th on NHL Numbers' most recent consensus draft rankings, a system that aggregates the rankings of several different scouting services, but there's a pretty wide range of opinions on the 6'1", 179-pound winger. Most scouts agree that Burakowsky's selling points are his blazing speed and high-end puck skills but, after a disappointing season in which he struggled to earn ice time, the scouting community is somewhat divided on where to rank him. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus placed Burakowsky 13th overall in his final draft rankings and had this to say:
One NHL executive said that Burakowsky's skating is comparable to some of the top Swedes to come out of the draft recently. He gains efficient power from his stride, and he has a great top gear. His skill level allows him to regularly make above-average to high-end dekes and passes. He has the look of a skilled puck possessor with every shift. The extra element of his game is his grit, and one NHL source described his work ethic as equal to his skill level. He has the ability to impact the possession game with his skill and smarts, and he has a knack for pressuring the puck away from opponents. In order to fulfill his potential, Burakowsky will have to get stronger. There are also significant question marks around his decision making, as some scouts indicate he can be a bit of a puck hog. There are some kinks to correct, but his game has great upside, and he can be a top-line player at his peak.
TSN's Craig Button, on the other hand, has Burakowsky ranked 58th in his final rankings which is especially jarring because TSN ranked him 7th overall in their preseason rankings last September when Button had this to say:
Andre is explosive and powerful. His skating is excellent and he has the ability to challenge defenders, put them on their heels and make them vulnerable very quickly. He is the type of player who makes defencemen nervous because he is not only fast, but determined as and he will not back down from the competitive areas and is very difficult to deter. He can come at you from anywhere on the ice and combined with excellent sense, he knows how to use it to gain those advantages. Good puck skills and can make plays at high speed and he is capable of beating you with a drive to the net or with a pass given the opportunity. He is a game-breaking type of player who plays when it matters and makes teams better.
So what soured Button on Burakowsky? Most likely his underwhelming offensive numbers this year. As mentioned, Burakowsky struggled to earn ice time in Sweden's second-tier league and as a result finished with just four goals and eleven points in 43 games, a pace short of what 2013-eligible Alexander Wennberg and 11th overall pick in 2012 Filip Forsberg accomplished in the same league. At the same time, statistics compiled by prospects in either of Sweden's top two men's leagues can often be misleading or at least limited indicators of their talent level, often influenced by things outside their control. Players like Patrik Berglund and Mikael Backlund have built fine NHL careers for themselves despite struggling offensively in Allsvenskan to an even greater extent than Burakowsky did in 2012-13.
And Button is really the only prominent scout for whom Burakowsky's season was seen as justification for dropping the winger out of the top 30. Central Scouting has Burakowsky ranked 6th among European skaters, Future Considerations has him at 25th overall, and International Scouting Services has him 16th overall. Shawn Reznik of The Hockey Writers believes Burakowsky is a safe bet to go somewhere in the bottom third of the first round and wrote at length about his high-end offensive ability:
Burakovsky won’t tower over his opponents, but he will stand out among his opposition and teammates as a fun player to watch. Speed kills – and Burakovsky has a ton of it. He moves quickly, accelerates, and has tremendous breakaway speed. If a defender is one-on-one against Burakovsky, he will likely get beat on the Swede’s speed, alone. His agility and ability to make sharp cuts is also a useful tool for Andre.
Andre has soft hands, as is a commonality among Swedish players. He seems to always be a threat whenever the puck is on his stick, and isn’t afraid to use his quick release and powerful shot. The way he handles the puck at such a quick speed is magical to watch. Many times, Burakovsky will go to the front of the net. He isn’t afraid of the physical play he will receive, even though he is relatively scrawny for such a skilled winger.
Being lanky, Burakovsky can sometimes get knocked off the puck, but you won’t see it happen often. He hasn’t had as many chances as maybe he would’ve liked this season to contribute, which is why his point totals may seem a bit low. Andre has the ability to be an NHL player with game-changing skills. He is going to be a nice addition to any team that needs an extra boost on the offensive side of the puck.
Reznik compares Burakowsky's playing style to that of Alexander Semin, a tantalizing stylistic comparison echoed at Last Word on Sports. Ultimately, it's unlikely Burakowsky will turn out to be a player of Semin's caliber but the mere chance to snag someone with a comparable skillset was too good to pass up. It's entirely possible Burakowsky flames out and fails to make the NHL all together, but it's also possible, with physical maturation and a development of his defensive game to earn the trust of coaching staffs, he turns into a first-line winger during his peak.
He's the epitome of a boom-or-bust pick, once considered a top-ten talent among this year's draft pool before his stock swiftly fell over the course of a frustrating season. Burakowsky is a risky selection but it's a risk worth taking for a team like the Sharks that desperately need an injection of high-end forward talent in their pipeline. Without moving up, selecting a player like Burakowsky is one of the only ways they can legitimately accomplish that at 20th overall.
To set up the following poll, here's the order in which the first 19 picks in our mock draft went down: Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, Aleksander Barkov, Valeri Nichushkin, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Darnell Nurse, Hunter Shinkaruk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Mirco Mueller, Bo Horvat, Kerby Rychel, Max Domi, Alexander Wennberg, Frederik Gauthier, Ryan Pulock, Anthony Mantha, Valentin Zykov. In addition to Burakowsky, we also strongly considered Artturi Lehkonen, Morgan Klimchuk and Adam Erne at 20th. Who would you have picked?